A SpaceX Falcon Heavy booster displayed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. From Lehigh's Design Labs to SpaceX, Lehigh students say experiential learning inspired them to work on spaceships such as those developed by SpaceX. Contributed photo.

Engineering Dreams: From Lehigh to SpaceX

Lehigh’s Design Labs help shape the next generation of space pioneers through experiential learning.

In the dynamic setting of Lehigh’s Design Labs, Bryce Cavey ’20 was captivated by the intricate task of chassis welding. Delving deep into the fabrication process, he soon found himself leading chassis construction for the student-run Formula SAE team’s single-seat race car.

Could the same hands fine-tuning aerodynamics for speed one day help design starships?

That is the path Bryce Cavey ’20 navigated—from the Formula SAE (FSAE) team to the pioneering platforms of SpaceX.

Fueled by his passion and expertise in metal fabrication, Cavey, a mechanical engineering major with a computer science minor, secured a position at SpaceX after graduating from Lehigh. There, his designs contribute to the development of SpaceX’s Starship rocket.

As a tooling engineer at SpaceX, Cavey leverages his expertise in automated welding machinery—skills honed on the Lehigh FSAE team. The club, which is composed of about 30 engineering and business students, is where Cavey's passion for welding took shape.

"I joined the FSAE team in my sophomore year, and explored a spectrum of engineering facets, but welding was the one that really sparked my curiosity," Cavey shared.

His breakthrough moment as a student came in the Wilbur Powerhouse, where through the support of the Design Labs he became captivated by the intricate task of chassis welding. Delving deep into the world of welding, he soon found himself leading the chassis construction for the team's single-seat race car.

Cavey credited his time with the FSAE team and the hands-on resources of the Design Labs as crucial in helping him land his dream job at SpaceX.

"The Design Labs provided me with access to an array of tools, from 3D printers to TIG welders," he said. "We didn't just design; we also built, tested and learned from our failures."

Mika Kizuka

IDEAS major Mika Kizuka '24 completed a summer internship at Space X in 2023, focusing on optimizing the propulsion check system.

Brian Slocum, director of the Design Labs, said, the Design Lab is a place where ideas aren't just born—they're crafted, tested and fine-tuned, transforming ambitious students into trailblazers in fields as exhilarating as space exploration.

"Our mission goes beyond academic instruction, “ Slocum said. “We are deeply committed to preparing students for the complexities and demands of industry. It's about inspiring them to think like engineers and act like leaders, ready to take on the challenges of tomorrow."

Conner Larocque '25, also a mechanical engineering major and a FSAE team member, has been interning at SpaceX as a tooling engineer since May 2023. He said the CNC machine and other equipment at Wilbur Powerhouse became integral to his work in SpaceX's Texas facilities.

He encouraged his peers to leverage the abundant resources at Lehigh to create, refine and innovate.

Bill Maroun, technician in the Mechanical Engineering Department and the FSAE team advisor said he was fortunate to work with like-minded students who are passionate about design and fabrication.

“Gaining hands-on experience helps to round out their skill set,” he said. “And with support from the university, by providing them with mentorship, equipment and a work area, really helps make this possible."

IDEAS major Mika Kizuka '24 completed a summer internship at Space X in 2023, focusing on optimizing the propulsion check system. She said she gained a comprehensive knowledge of the Falcon 9 Booster, from the heat shield to avionics and ground support equipment.

After her stint at SpaceX, Kizuka took a position as a fellow in the Lehigh Design Labs, where she can assist fellow students with similar aspirations. She credited Lehigh with equipping her for the challenges at SpaceX through practical experience and encouraging creative problem-solving.

"Lehigh has a strong track record of sending students to intern at SpaceX, and that trend is set to continue," said Kizuka. "Prepare to step out of your comfort zone and embrace intense learning. It's an unparalleled opportunity that you should seize without hesitation."

Story by Haidan Hu

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