Rocket Man: Space Club Project Manager Levi Willmeth discusses inspiration and upcoming NASA Internship

Levi Willmeth holds the payload for the Eclipse Ballooning Project.

It was a clear Saturday morning and the Albany campus of LBCC was mostly silent aside from the few birds that chirped in the morning sun. The majority of the college’s students were at home recovering from the busy school week while Levi Willmeth and the Space Exploration Club were hard at work on their latest endeavor.

Willmeth is a graduate of LBCC with an associate degree in computer sciences. He is the project manager of the Space Exploration Club and is starting an internship at NASA later this year in June. He is currently enrolled at OSU and is scheduled to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2018.

Willmeth grew up in a small, unincorporated community in Southern Oregon called Williams. He cites his small-town upbringing as an inspiration for going into computer engineering.

“Growing up, I was always fascinated by electricity and electronics. Maybe it’s because we lived very much off-the-grid, without amenities like electricity, or even a phone line, at home.”

Willmeth was home schooled immediately after sixth grade and felt like he was missing out on opportunities for pursuing a college education because of it. He was fed up with his situation and decided to take action by enrolling at LBCC.

“Four years ago, I realized it wasn’t my circumstances holding me back: it was just me. One day I realized I had to get out of my own way, and three months later, I moved across the state and enrolled at LBCC.”

In 2015, he applied for a workshop put on by the LBCC Space Exploration Club, where they designed a scientific payload to fly on board a NASA research rocket. He loved the experience and has been with the club on every project since. He is currently the manager of their upcoming project, where they look to launch a video payload on board a high altitude balloon to capture near-space footage of the solar eclipse scheduled to cross the continental United States later this year.

“He’s a good leader, very good at nurturing creativity, and loves when people bring their ideas to the table,” said Delphine LeBrun Colon, who has worked with Willmeth in the club since 2015. LeBrun Colon was the Space Exploration Club project manager last year, when the group built an ambitious rocket-borne payload that was designed to measure polarized energy from gamma rays in space.

“I couldn’t have led the team without him last year,” said LeBrun Colon, who praised Willmeth’s contributions to the project last year.

Willmeth is committed to the club and is always looking for new ways to improve. Several members of the club admire his work ethic.

“I wish I had his blood pressure. He’s so calm and collected, always on task and he’s a great role model to other students,” said Space Exploration Club adviser Parker Swanson.

“If I had to describe him in one word, it would be dedicated,” said Space Exploration Club member Evan Schreiber.

“He’s always the first one here and the last one to leave,” added Seth Newman.

For his internship with NASA, Willmeth will be writing and testing embedded software for orientation control systems on projects like unmanned aircraft systems and satellites. He applied for the internship through NASA’s One Stop Shopping Initiative (OSSI), a NASA-wide system that is used for the recruitment, application, selection and development of high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. They hope develop applicants in the various fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I would definitely encourage more students interested in a career in aerospace to apply,” said Willmeth “It was a little intimidating at first since I didn’t come from a big school, but NASA is ultimately looking for people with experience more than anything. These types of opportunities with the club are more valuable to them than any big school background you might have.”

Willmeth credits the Space Exploration Club as an integral part for obtaining his internship opportunity.

“My experience with the LBCC Space Club was critical to getting this internship, because I had plenty of real world experience to talk about on my application and during my interviews,” said Willmeth. “I feel like a small-town car mechanic who got invited to work on an F1 car.”

While Willmeth is excited to get started at his internship, he reflected on his time at LBCC and with the Space Exploration Club.

“I guess I just want to let students know how many opportunities at LBCC there really are and encourage them to take a look at the types of programs that are available.”

Story by Joshua Stickrod

Photos by Lori Fludge-Bunker