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Recent Grad Made the Most of Opportunities

Monday, June 5, 2017

Alex Preisser’s journey to his graduation from UTA was a winding road, but he took advantage of all of the opportunities that presented themselves along the way.

Alex Preisser, center, and his parentsPreisser grew up in Keller, his father a mechanic and his mother, a dental hygienist. All but one of his neighbors were engineers, which helped feed his fascination with machines. In high school, Preisser and his friends got involved with Project Lead the Way, which helps students develop problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration skills that they will use in school and for the rest of their lives. 

“I had a teacher in high school, Mr. Killebrew, who had a huge impact on me and got me interested in engineering. I also felt a strong call to serve my country, so I started looking at college pathways to do that,” Preisser said. 

He wasn’t admitted to any of the three service academies, so he looked for Air Force ROTC programs. TCU had one, but the university was out of reach for a student of his means. However, when he met with the ROTC commander there he learned that he was eligible for a scholarship that would cover the cost to attend a local university, and UTA was included. He had already applied, and soon he was on campus.

“My first two years at UTA I tried to balance college life with schoolwork and ROTC, but once I got to my upper-level courses I stuck to engineering and ROTC. I began to see the value of volunteering and getting to know the community through my activities,” Preisser said.

Preisser took Dereje Agonafer’s Thermodynamics II course in fall 2015 and found himself engaging with the class and talking to Agonafer about his research. The following semester, Preisser visited Agonafer to talk to him about scholarship opportunities, and Agonafer offered him an undergraduate research position, funded by a National Science Foundation REU grant, in his lab. Preisser accepted, even though it meant extra hours of studying to get himself up to speed on the knowledge he needed to participate.

With the help of Agonafer and his graduate students, Preisser learned quickly and was assigned to the helium-filled hard drive project and the vibration-noise project. 

Preisser graduated summa cum laude in May. He was a Distinguished Graduate of the Air Force ROTC program, which recognizes the top 10% of cadets nationwide, and was the 2015-16 USAA Junior Cadet of the Year and the 2016 Society of American Military Engineers AFROTC National Award winner.

He reported to his first active duty post in the Air Force in June and began tech school in Maryland shortly after to begin his career as a public affairs officer working with NASA in Florida during rocket launches.

All of Preisser’s experiences at UTA were valuable, but he notes the importance of the University’s diverse student body especially.

“Listening to and interacting with people from other cultures has really been good for me. I value the diversity and cultures at UTA, and the influence they had on my world view,” he said. “I already have a lot of insight into how to approach situations with people who come from different backgrounds, and I think I’m well prepared to walk into my career field and work with people internationally. I’ll be leaps and bounds ahead.”