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Go Ahead, Take the Hard Classes


Dr. Pete Roming may now be the director of Southwest Research Institute’s Space Engineering Department, but he still remembers how BYU helped start his career.

“Almost every job I have had I can trace back to Brigham Young University,” Roming said. “When I was a grad student at BYU, I was a project manager for the GoldHelOX project, which was a solar robotics telescope. . . . [That was] one of the reasons that I was hired at Penn State [and became the principal investigator on the NASA Swift UltraViolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT)]. I had an astrophysics background, but what they were looking for was someone who understood project management, as well as science.”

As the director of the department, Roming oversees fifty technicians and engineers whose primary focus is on space instrumentation. His science interest continues to be research into massive stars, including looking for the earliest stars formed in the universe. But long before becoming the Director of Space Engineering, Roming capitalized on many of the opportunities that BYU could offer him.

“The job I have now partially came about because I got my PhD in astronomy and physics, but also because the Physics Department [at BYU] allowed me to do a PhD skill in mechanical engineering,” Roming said. “That was not the norm, but I made a request. . . . It’s not a mechanical engineering degree, but it gave me enough of a background that I really understood the engineering side of space-based instrumentation.”

Roming’s advice to current students is based off his own experience of stepping out of the norm.

“Don’t be so narrow,” Roming said. “Broaden your capabilities. . . . When you are in school, you really have the time to learn many different [subjects]. It’s book learning, but you really have the opportunity to look at these [topics] and to learn many [essential principles]. Take that opportunity. Later on, it’s a lot harder. Learn as much as you can now.”

To be successful in a STEM career, Roming recommends being brave while still in school.

“Don’t shy away from the hard classes,” Roming said. “If I’m going to hire somebody, I would rather hire somebody who has a 3.5 GPA, but took chances and took hard classes, versus the person who just did exactly what they had to do to get a 4.0.”

While Roming is grateful for his history at BYU, he is still looking to the future.

“Eventually, I still would like to submit to NASA an entire mission that I could lead,” Roming said. “Not just [developing] an instrument—I would like to lead an entire mission. . . . My specific interest is to look for the first stars in the universe using gamma ray bursts.”

Mitch Rogers, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences