Like many Central Florida teens, Jonathan Kessluk ’20 got a summer job at one of Universal’s theme parks in 2014. Little did he know that a job working lights for some of the park’s shows, would lead him to a UCF engineering degree and a job at Kennedy Space Center.

Kessluk, who graduated in August 2020, is a telecommunications engineer for the Launch Services Program for KSC. He helps NASA minimize risk when working with launch service providers since every spacecraft has different requirements that need to be met. Part of his job is to help provide services for missions that need a launch vehicle to get to space.

“When I was at Universal, it was my job to install and maintain lighting equipment for concerts and special events,” Kessluk says. “I would run power and data cables, install lighting equipment, and drive heavy machinery. Many events required and benefited from intelligent lighting and computers to control movement, color, shape, etc. Once you get enough of these lighting devices together in one place, electricity requirements can become a problem too. I noticed that electricity and computers were important parts to that industry and began learning more because it was interesting to me.”

His curiosity piqued, he soon discovered he wanted to make electronic devices and that meant majoring in computer engineering when he arrived at UCF in 2014.

After taking a few classes, the Florida native realized research was a great way to gets hands-on experience making things. Although he was studying engineering, Kessluk ended up meeting physics Professor Joshua Colwell. The Pegasus Professor runs UCF’s Center for Microgravity Research that studies how dust and other ingredients came together to form our solar system. The lab, on the fourth floor of the physical sciences building, is always busy with students working on experiments.

What caught Kessluk’s attention was seeing Colwell’s students make devices to carry the experiments into zero-gravity environments. There was even a drop tower to test out some of the devices. He was hooked.

Kessluk worked with Colwell and his colleagues at the Florida Space Institute in Research Park throughout his time at UCF.

“Jonathan brought an uncommon level of maturity and leadership for a student researcher to our software design team,” Colwell says. “His success is no surprise.”

Internships

The research Kessluk did and his work in the classroom were only two of the ingredients he says led to his success. He knew internships were important, which is why he didn’t stop at one.

“I applied to a few places, NASA included,” he says. “NASA called me, and I gratefully became an intern. From then on, I realized that I was capable of working at a place like NASA and decided that the space industry was an awesome area to work in.”

Before graduating he landed a second internship, which he completed in 2019, with an aerospace company in Germany.

“UCF prepared me by introducing material in classes that builds on itself in subsequent classes,” he says. “Everything is related and learning those relationships helped prepare me for most things that can get thrown my way. Furthermore, the research opportunities I participated in at UCF gave me the chance to do real work with the concepts I was learning which let me practice and understand what I was learning in class.”

It wasn’t always easy stretching himself to complete demanding classes, conduct research and dive into internships, but the payoff was worth it. Kessluk says he loves his job.

“Another thing I love is the community and the culture at Kennedy Space Center,” he says. “Everyone wants to help you succeed and do better since we are all working together to launch really cool things to space.”

Story by Zenaida Kotala, UCF Today