Talking to senior Liam Cusack, one gets the sense that he is a naturally curious young man who is eager to try new things and embrace adventure. Of course this is fitting for someone who aspires to be an astronaut.
In fact, Liam has tried a little of everything at GW: music, athletics, service projects, study abroad, and research. For that matter, he even has sampled majors at SEAS, moving through a couple of them before settling on a double major in systems engineering and computer science.
As he tells the story, his odyssey through engineering disciplines included an “a-ha” moment while reading a book assigned in one of his courses. He discovered that he didn’t want to start a career in a field that would require him to specialize and narrow his view. Instead, Liam says, “I was more interested in how entire systems work and found out that that is exactly what systems engineering is.”
Meanwhile, he has taken full advantage of the chance to explore his interests and the opportunities that SEAS and GW offer. During his freshman year, he applied for and received one of the six scholarships awarded that year through the Clark Engineering Scholars program, which was established in 2011 through a gift from Mr. A. James Clark, chairman of the board and CEO of Clark Enterprises, Inc.
As a Clark Scholar, Liam has had executives from Fortune 500 companies review his resume and has met CEOs, doctors, and yes, even an astronaut. The program also has given him someone he fondly calls a mentor, SEAS alumnus Patrick Marolda. “It is great to get his perspective on everything,” says Liam.
Liam believes he benefits as well from the company of the other Clark Scholars. “One of the best things about it is that you’re with a small group of people who are doing inter- esting things, but [those things] are different from what I’m doing,” says Liam, “And you tend to reflect the people you’re around, so being around people who are doing cool stuff makes me want to do cool stuff.”
As part of the scholarship program, Liam even studied in Ireland for a semester during his junior year, sampling everything from life in Dublin to the more rugged landscape of western Ireland. Here on campus, he has been a member of the rowing team since his freshman year; is involved in the SEAS Student Peer Advisory Network; sings with the GW a capella group Sons of Pitch (his favorite activity); and worked in Professor Adam Wickenheiser’s laboratory on small scale wind energy harvesting using piezo- electric materials. “I learned a lot about using MATLAB,” recalls Liam, “and my knowledge using that helped me get my internship at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.”
Liam says that his favorite part of working at the Applied Physics Laboratory was creating a 3-D visualization tool with mapping capability that is used in analyses and presentations. The team at Johns Hopkins was so impressed with his work the first summer that they called him during the school year and asked him to come back and intern the following summer. In fact, they didn’t have a specific internship in mind for Liam and instead offered him the chance to select his own topic. “They just said, ‘What do you want to work on?’” recalls Liam.
After he graduates this coming spring, Liam hopes to work in missile or cyber defense until he can submit his application to NASA. “If there was a mission to Mars, I would absolutely sign up for it,” he says without any sense of hesitation. In the meantime, he’ll continue to explore here on Earth.