Since Michael Riggi was about six years old, his father and brother would take him to a “Cars and Coffee” show in Great Falls, Virginia, on weekends. Being around classic automobiles and luxury vehicles, Riggi said he developed an appreciation for cars, and other machines that go fast, including planes, boats, and rockets.
Now, as a junior at George Mason University, his career path has also been racing forward.
The systems engineering major working on an accelerated master’s degree is the president of Hypernova Solar, a student organization creating what they believe will be the world’s first 3D-printed solar car.
Ultimately, Riggi said he aspires to work in the aerospace industry. His work with Hypernova Solar combined with his degree helped him land an internship with the global aerospace, defense, and security company, Northrop Grumman, he said.
“[Systems engineering] is in high demand in almost all tech industries,” Riggi said.
“Mason is one of the only schools I found in this area that offered a system engineering major, and Mason’s program was ranked higher than [the University of Virginia]’s,” he said. “I chose Mason off their great program.”
When Riggi interned with Northrop Grumman in summer 2021, he said he worked on spacecraft that go up to the international space station—in particular, the Cygnus Mission. Riggi said his tasks involved taking measurements, estimating error, and creating a CAD model of the thruster.
“We made a tool that allowed Mission Control to quickly throw in measurements of the motors to see how it affects the angle of the spacecraft on-the-fly, so they can steer the spacecraft,” Riggi said.
“The qualities about Michael that impressed me and my colleagues [at Northrop Grumman] were his imagination and ability to tackle a task that was initially beyond the scope of his previous experience,” said Roseann Alvarez, systems engineering manager at Northrop Grumman. “He shows plenty of growth potential and will be an asset to any future employer.”
“Based on Michael’s performance and his contributions to the [Commercial Resupply Services] program, I would highly recommend Northrop Grumman recruitment of Mason interns and graduates in the future,” she said.
Riggi said he’s excited to intern again with Northrop Grumman in summer 2022.
“There’s something about being on the cutting edge of technology and science that I really love,” he said. “[My internship] helped me realize what traits I value in a workplace and helped me realize specific parts of my education to focus on because I’ve seen what’s actually needed in the workforce.”
“Michael embodies the ideal of a systems engineer, being able to assemble and lead a large team of students with diverse skills to design, build, and test a complex system,” Shortle said. “He’s a great ambassador for the discipline and will be a great asset in the workforce.”
When he’s not leading Hypernova Solar, Riggi said he enjoys going off-roading and taking photos.
“It’s really a great way to blow off steam and relax,” Riggi said, suggesting diverse activities help keep his life balanced yet exciting. “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s being bored.”
That’s another reason he appreciates the opportunities at Mason.
“My favorite part of Mason is the community,” Riggi said. “The diverse student population has taught me so much and helped me make so many friends, the amazing faculty have been so helpful, and the community of Fairfax is very diverse and a great space to explore.”