Silver Medal Award winner shifts from graduation to space exploration

Caitlin Robinson started her college experience as a shy student, keeping to herself. Leaving the comfort of high school and family behind was a challenging transition.

The leadership and teamwork skills she learned as part of a volleyball club through high school and college helped her move forward. Soon she was using those skills as an ambassador for students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and as a student mentor in the college’s ENpower Bridge student transition program.

Caitlin Robinson, 2020 CEC Silver Medal winner, Mechanical Engineering: Photo Credit: Caitlin Robinson
Caitlin Robinson, 2020 CEC Silver Medal winner, Mechanical Engineering: Photo Credit: Caitlin Robinson

The graduating senior also had numerous volunteer projects, stellar grades, and internships with Woodward and United Launch Alliance.

Now those efforts have paid off with one of the most prestigious awards an engineering student can receive, the Silver Medal from the Colorado Engineering Council. With a college degree and recognition by the state’s top engineering council, it is time to reach for the stars.


Her internship last summer working on rockets for United Launch Alliance has become a new full-time position with the company’s Mechanical Ground Support Equipment group.

“I can’t really see myself working in a more ideal situation,” said Robinson. “I get to see this entire rocket, that may eventually be carrying payloads to Mars, from beginning to end.”

Silver Medal Award nominations and selection

Each year, the Colorado Engineering Council awards the Silver Medal to a student at each of the state’s engineering colleges. The award is based on research skills, academic performance, and service.

Robinson was selected out of eight top students at CSU, all nominated by departments in the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering for consideration and interviews by the Engineering Council Student Awards Committee.

“Caitlin exemplifies the Colorado State University student,” said John Petro, a mechanical engineering instructor. “She has always gone above and beyond my expectations to help out in the classroom, lend assistance, and mentor fellow classmates.”

Mentoring and earning confidence

Lessons she learned through her volleyball club and volunteer efforts gave her the confidence to become a mechanical engineering student ambassador, working with students of all ages and their families. She also became a mentor for the college’s ENpower Bridge program, which gives incoming first-year students from underrepresented groups an opportunity to get to know campus before the school year starts.

As an ambassador and mentor, Robinson learned what it really meant to be a leader. She passed on her engineering student experience to first-year and prospective students, and before long she realized they were coming to her for help with all aspects of their lives.

“I thought it was really cool that they felt comfortable enough coming to me with any questions or concerns,” Robinson said. “It really allowed me to come out of my shell and be able to be that leader.”

Space, internships, and rockets

At the beginning of her junior year, she learned from a family friend about something that would change the rest of her college career and beyond: an internship at United Launch Alliance.

“It allowed me to help with the exploration of space,” Robinson said. “I decided to apply and was able to get that internship last summer, and it was a great experience.”

She worked on United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket, scheduled to launch in 2021. The rocket’s initial mission is a trip to Mars.

Robinson not only put her engineering knowledge to work at the internship, she learned valuable non-technical lessons as well. She learned to communicate with different types of team members, and to focus on how her work impacts the team.

E-Days and the Spaceport America Cup Rocket Team

During 2019’s E-Days Student Showcase, she met the senior design rocket team. The team’s project was to build a rocket for launch at the yearly Spaceport America Cup Rocket competition.

She joined the team her senior year, learning more about collaboration and time management and helping the team with knowledge from her internship. She contributed her experience with the layout process of rocket airframes, and which materials to use to optimize strength and drag reduction.

The CSU team was the only one to launch a liquid rocket during the 2019 competition. Their rocket made it to 9,500 feet, more than twice as high as any liquid rocket had ever traveled in the contest. With simulations this year placing the new rocket above 28,000 feet, Robinson and the team had high hopes for success.

Then the pandemic hit, cancelling this year’s competition.

“Being the team lead of one of the sub teams was a pretty amazing experience, I still learned so much and it was a really good time,” Robinson said. “I wish we would have been able to see what could have happened.”

Building towards the future

At United Launch Alliance, she will design and model components and test fixtures for the Movable Launch Platform on the Vulcan rocket. Her work will help maintain efficiency of pre-launch protocols while maintaining essential components of the rocket, such as pressure and temperature, right up to launch.

It is a dream come true for Robinson, one of many dreams she has for her career.

“My very special goal in the future is to be an Imagineer at Disney, that would be amazing. That’s been the dream for awhile.”