Since graduating in 2005 with a degree in mechanical engineering, Noel Bakhtian has been living the life of an academic. She is currently in the middle of her PhD program in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford.
Although her program has a heavy workload, Bakhtian admitted, “It’s wonderful to be able to pursue a specific field in more depth. I do most of my research at NASA Ames, utilizing their CFD codes and supercomputers to do research on supersonic retropropulsion for heavy-mass Mars landings.”
As one might imagine, working at NASA has come with a whole host of interesting experiences for her. “I still can’t believe I get to see C-130’s and F-16’s doing touch and go’s in front of my building at NASA,” she said, laughing.
“And I landed a 757 at San Francisco International Airport!” Bakhtian boasted. “OK,” she admitted, “I was in the NASA flight simulator.”
Bakhtian also presented at the AIAA Space Conference in September about the benefits of returning humans to the moon. “Buzz Aldrin came to my talk!” she says excitedly. “I still can’t believe it.”
Bakhtian attributes some of her success in her higher education to her Pratt education. “Pratt gave me a solid foundation in engineering which prepared me well for the intense graduate classes at Stanford. Aero/Astro is very interdisciplinary, with structures, dynamics, controls, and fluids all playing a large role,” she said. “My Pratt coursework touched on each of these, so I felt comfortable taking advanced courses at Stanford.”
Bakhtian found her research experiences at Duke to be especially helpful in her higher education. “The Pratt Undergraduate Research Fellows program was incredibly helpful in introducing me to the field of research,” she remarks. “Having already performed research work before coming to graduate school definitely gave me an advantage.”
“Some of my favorite memories from Duke are performing Handel’s Messiah in the Duke Chapel, painting the bridge, studying in the gardens, Oreo shakes at the Loop, attending basketball games, Midnight Breakfast, and living on East Campus for three years,” she said.
Bakhtian enjoys her life in Palo Alto, and spends most of her time in class or at Ames working. “I have classes Tuesday and Thursday so I spend those days on campus, and attend lab group meetings, do homework and read papers,” she said. “The rest of the week I’m out at Ames running code on their computers.”
Although it may seem as though she’s always working, Bakhtian has found time for herself as well. “I’ve started playing soccer and joined a Bay Area league. I still run a lot, enjoy gardening, and by that I mean attempting to keep plants alive,” she joked. “I also enjoy reading and playing with my cats.”
Bakhtian has also been able to travel extensively since graduating, another favorite past-time. “I ran a half marathon in Budapest, sang Verdi’s Requiem in King’s Chapel in Cambridge and with Hvorostovosky in the Barbican in London.” Bakhtian reminisced fondly of her adventures, “I got to meet George Lucas, saw the A380 land at SFO for the first time, climbed a volcano in Guatemala and sailed the British Virgin Islands.”
As evidenced by her adventurous life and many travels, Bakhtian sees the value in experiencing the unfamiliar. “Go abroad! It will be the most incredible thing you do!” she advises students in college. For those in Pratt, she adds one extra piece of advice, “Listen to everything Dean Simmons says - she’s always right.”