From NASA to Norwich

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Richard Crowson planned to retire at age 55. Instead, at 56, the NASA engineer is rejuvenating his career by pursuing a Master of Civil Engineering degree from Norwich University, and hopes to enter a doctoral program next.

"With this degree from Norwich I can write my own ticket in the engineering field. This program is changing the outlook I have on the rest of my life," said Crowson, who has 30 years' experience as a civil and mechanical engineer and currently works for ASRC Aerospace at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Although the civil engineering program has "reawakened" his passion for engineering, Crowson said his decision to delay retirement was driven largely by financial need — his wife's successful three-year battle with cancer left the couple with one income and a mound of medical bills.

Despite Crowson's 30-year-career, including prestigious jobs at Robert Bosch Corporation, RTS Wright Industries and Accudyne, Crowson felt he needed an advanced degree to remain marketable.

"With the newly graduated engineers coming up on my tail, I needed to be more current in my education to stay employed," he said. "I want to be able to show my employers that I'm capable of handling new technology and new science."

When Crowson first started as an engineer in the 1970s, slide rules and drafting sets were the tools of the trade - things that now belong in a museum, he joked. "Today, I use NASA's fastest computers to conduct analyses, and technologies I learned just a few years ago aren't good enough for what we are doing now.

An advanced degree is one of the best ways for engineers to remain viable, said Thomas J. Descoteaux, Norwich's civil engineering program director.

"As in many professions, technology and innovation are having a tremendous impact on best practices in engineering. Our civil engineering faculty work very hard to provide students with the knowledge, tools and skills they need to make immediate impacts in their fields," said Descoteaux.

The Norwich program is helping Crowson perfect skills with advanced software such as Mathcad, which helps engineers perform, document and share calculation and design work; analysis software; and other calculation and drawing tools. Crowson hopes to combine this knowledge of new technology with his career experience as a powerful one-two punch.

"NASA considers education very important in its professionals, so having the master's in engineering will definitely broaden Rick's appeal to the NASA community," said Kent Batchelor, a fellow NASA engineer who has worked with Crowson since 2001.

Though he only recently finished his prerequisite courses and began his first seminar in the civil engineering program, Crowson has already seen benefits at work. The program requires students to conduct basic engineering calculations that are not always adhered to in the marketplace. Doing so has helped him shed light on tricky code requirements.

"We sometimes take shortcuts in industry in our calculation methods, and as a result I've worked with some code requirements that I didn't fully understand, but now I do," he explained.

Crowson expects the degree to help him with another aspect of his job. In his current role, Crowson is responsible for checking other engineers' designs for fluids, mechanisms, and structures - and these engineers often have advanced degrees. "Pursuing the civil engineering degree from Norwich will make the people whose work I check view me as a peer from an educational standpoint," he said.

Crowson has been honored as a past chapter chairman of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), inductee of the SME President's Circle and recipient of the Manufacturing Engineering Certification Institute's Honor Roll Award for outstanding accomplishment.

"Rick's vast experience and knowledge of many different aspects of engineering and manufacturing is invaluable to the new engineers at ASRC," said Batchelor.

While he may not be enjoying the sweet life of retirement as early as planned, Crowson does not regret the decision to revamp his education and career at Norwich.

"This is the right school at the right time, and the motivation I've gained from my professors is just amazing," he said. "It is hard work and I've gone weekends without sleeping, but I'm so happy I'm doing this."