WKU student interns for NASA as engineer

Maciena Justice

When the economy took a turn for the worse in 2008, licensed plumber Tim Hennig made a decision that would change his life.

The Louisville native left his position at Senninger Company to go back to school at Elizabethtown Community College, where he earned two associate degrees.

Hennig then decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the technology management program at WKU. He is currently a senior and taking online classes to finish his degree while living in Houston.

Going back to school for the now 40-year-old was an easy choice, according to his ex-wife, Tina Smith.

“He was frustrated with his dead-end job, and he wanted to better his life,” said Smith, who lives in Radcliff.

Hennig had gone to college after he graduated high school, but maintaining a full-time job and classes was difficult, Smith said.

“It was very important to get his degree, especially after his son was born,” Smith said. “He wanted to show his son how important a degree is in life.”

Currently Hennig is working as a project engineer with NASA, a position that he earned after applying for an internship. He is overseeing the maintenance of two buildings, Sonny Carter Neutral Buoyancy Lab and Ellington Air Field Training Facility. He is also supervising several building projects, such as a water main replacement for Johnson Space Center.

The project engineer position is the second internship Hennig has had with NASA. The first internship was at Langley Air Force base in Virginia, and he received it after winning a Mars Rover Space Program competition. While in Virginia, he spent 16 weeks working on an Electron Beam Fabricator, a machine that will travel into space and be able to produce metal parts on demand.

Since he was already in the system, he was able to apply for other internships within NASA. But when applying for other placements, his assignment location wasn’t immediately known, Hennig said.

“They place you where they need you,” he said. “I ended up in Houston.”

Smith said it was a choice that was difficult for Hennig because of his 11-year-old son in Kentucky.

“The end result is worth it, (because) it can provide better job offers, to provide for his son,” Smith said.

To help manage his time with family, Hennig applied for his second internship online, said Lisa Fletcher, the branch chief of Facility Maintenance and Operation Division at NASA.

Hennig said Fletcher is his mentor and supervisor. She described his duties as overseeing and managing the projects.

“He is a quick learner,” she said. “(He) has only been here since Jan. 17.”

The real-world experience will really be helpful for him and great for his resume, Fletcher said.

“It’s really in line with what he wants,” she said.

Hennig must maintain a certain GPA to stay in the internship. He will be at this internship through the end of April.

After completing his bachelor’s degree, Hennig intends to go to graduate school.

“He’s the hardest working individual I know,” Smith said. “He is a perfectionist — very ambitious.”

Hennig said he doesn’t have a prestigious job at NASA, but it is still a job at NASA. He has even met a few astronauts.

“I’ve got to meet some nice people — they are all normal,” he said.

Hennig doesn’t let the work overwhelm him, he said.

“I’m just making up for lost time,” he said.