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UK’s SpaceLex is propelling ambitions and preparing students for liftoff

Cayenne+Warren%2C+a+sophomore++majoring+in+materials+engineering%2C+speaks+with+other+members+of+SpaceLex+on+Wednesday%2C+Sep.+6%2C+2023+in+the+Terrell+Civil+Engineering+Building+in+Lexington%2C+Kentucky.+Photo+by+Gracie+Moore+%7C+Staff
Gracie Moore
Cayenne Warren, a sophomore majoring in materials engineering, speaks with other members of SpaceLex on Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2023 in the Terrell Civil Engineering Building in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Gracie Moore | Staff

Tucked away in a small classroom on the top floor of the University of Kentucky’s Terrell Civil Engineering Building, you can find SpaceLex, the campus’ only rocketry and propulsion team.

Eager, hardworking students gather there several times a week throughout the school year to plan and create functioning rockets.

Having only been around since 2019, the club is still growing and has worked hard to create what they have today. 

SpaceLex president Ryan Kodura said he first found out about the club as a freshman. 

He said he went to Campus Ruckus in hopes of finding an engineering club to join, but was unsuccessful. As a civil structural engineering major, Kodura said not all clubs were welcoming or a good fit for him.

“But then one day I got an email from this guy named Chandler, and he was like ‘Hey, there’s a rocketry club, do you want to join,’” Kodura said.

Kodura informed Chandler of his major, like he did other clubs, and Kodura said “Who cares, it’s for fun.” He is now a senior and has been with the club ever since.

Kodura strives to share the same openness as he was given freshman year. Though the club is mostly engineering and aerospace students, anyone can join. He said he tells students “if you’re excited about it, I’m excited about it.”

Kodura said the club has slowly grown over the past few years. 

“For a while it was just people meeting in random peoples’ apartments, and then it took a lot of arguing with the university to eventually get us an advisor,” he said.

There were many setbacks along the way, but their advisor eventually secured them a workspace. They now have around 40 members and work with the mechanical and aerospace departments at UK. 

Kodura said they are currently working on their L1 program, which allows new members to build their own high-power rocket and achieve licensing. 

They are also planning to compete at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry Competition in the spring, a competition they work toward all year. They will build an L2 rocket with the goal of hitting 5,000 feet.

Throughout the year they will also focus on some research projects in collaboration with the mechanics and materials and aerospace departments at UK.

Kodura said this club has helped him in more ways than one — not only does he get hands-on experience, but he has also made many great friendships. 

Kodura is from Illinois and said when he moved here, he didn’t know anyone at all. The club he has been a part of for the last four years has brought him a community.

“This is my home away from home, and to me that’s the most important thing,” he said. 

Kodura said aerospace attracts very passionate people, and that’s what he likes about it. He said it is not easy but one of the most rewarding majors.

Christian Lauritzen, vice president of SpaceLex and a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said he also enjoys the club’s community. 

Lauritzen said he originally went to George Washington University and tried a bunch of different majors but didn’t really like any of them. 

He then decided to take some time off from school and worked as a pizza delivery driver. He said he started listening to a lot of audio books while making his pizza runs.

“Several of them were about space and the recent development of these new companies doing really innovative stuff,” Lauritzen said. “And by the end of the year, I was pretty confident that I wanted to do something with space, so I became a mechanical engineer.”

Lauritzen enrolled at UK and started looking for space clubs, and sure enough, found SpaceLex. 

He said the club is a lot of fun.

I feel like you build a special bond with people that you do sort of difficult things with,” he said. 

Lauritzen also said the club has taught him how to engineer in a practical way. Rather than just looking at theories, he said he gets to work on things that actually have to function in the real world.

He said he is given the opportunity to work toward big, complicated goals and feels that has been something really valuable for him. 

Lauritzen said this club will also help him with his future goals.

Other members, including Lauritzen, mentioned that aerospace does not hold a very strong footprint in Kentucky. The aerospace major at UK has not been an option until recently, and Lauritzen said he believes UK is the only college in the state to offer it. 

Because of this, Lauritzen said breaking into the aerospace field can be difficult, especially with bigger companies, but SpaceLex can help set students in the right direction. 

He said the club has continued to add around ten new members every year, and their goal is to continue to become more ambitious. 

Lauritzen said he would tell students thinking about joining to do it. He said they can always use more people because that means more resources for the club to use. 

“There’s really nowhere else in this area where you can get the kind of experience we get with both building rockets and working on a team to solve difficult problems,” he said. 

Cayenne Warren, a sophomore at UK, is majoring in materials engineering on the aerospace engineering track, and she is the project manager of materials research for the club. 

Warren said she learned about the club before she even started at UK. She said someone she received a scholarship from mentioned that the university had a rocketry team, and she decided to check it out. 

“I wanted to originally go into aerospace engineering, so I thought this would be a really great place to get some experience, so that I can just start applying to internships, honestly it ended up being so much more than that to me,” Warren said. “The people that I’ve met through this club have become some of my closest friends, and I really appreciate that.”

She said last year she met the officer team and found out about the vacancy in the leadership materials leadership position. As a freshman, she said she didn’t think she had a chance.

She decided to apply anyway and got the position.

“That’s become like my favorite thing in the entire world, and I was super grateful they took a chance on me when I was very new to college, and I think that helped a lot in my confidence and in my ability to do stuff inside my classes,” Warren said.

She said she has been able to help with recruitment a lot this semester, which is something she enjoys. 

Warren said she tells students that UK doesn’t have a lot of aerospace engineering-based student organizations yet because it’s so new, but these small clubs make it easier to move up in leadership quickly. 

She said whenever a student is thinking about joining, she tries to talk to them about the fact that getting the results you want is dependent on what you put in.

“The more time you dedicate, the more you get out of it,” she said. “The more time you’re in the club, the more likely you are to either advance in the club, or to find out what you’re truly passionate about within the industry.”

Warren said her main goal for the club this year was to recruit more people to her team and the club as a whole. She has succeeded in this, now having a team of around four or five, when she was the only member of the materials research portion of the club last year.

The club still has many goals to complete for the rest of the year, and will work together to create their rocket for competition while always welcoming new members. 

 

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