After graduating from Flathead High School, Andrew Crawford spent a decade as a professional snowboarder, competing in the Winter X-Games, several World Cups and even landing his own character in two video games on X-Box and PlayStation.
Today, he works for Google X and NASA, designing some of the world’s most innovative technology and pioneering a future for space exploration, recently making the case for a voyage to the ice-sheathed Saturn moon Enceladus before an international aerospace panel in Beijing – the International Astronautical Congress.
It might seem like an unlikely career departure, but for those who know Crawford it’s no surprise.
Following his success as a sponsored snowboarder, Crawford entered the Flathead Valley Community College’s Engineering Transfer Program, which prepared him for the engineering program at Montana State University
In the Flathead Valley, Crawford grew up committed to playing the violin and gearing his professional career toward becoming a classical musician.
As a teenager, his enthusiasm shifted toward professional snowboarding, garnering cameos in the Warren Miller Films and Entertainment franchise.
And while his turn toward a career in the aerospace industry might seem abrupt, it combines the correlation of music and mathematics with the urge to push boundaries that is at the core of competing as a top mountain athlete.
So when he set aside his Rossignol snowboard to enter classes at Flathead Valley Community College, no one doubted that Crawford would achieve a high degree of success, and his recent accomplishments include work as a team member on Google’s highly anticipated self-driving car.
The Engineering Transfer Program at FVCC offers a range of freshman and sophomore level classes to prepare students transferring to engineering programs at Montana State University – Bozeman, Montana Tech of the University of Montana, and Carroll College.
Crawford said the FVCC program has the advantages of small class sizes, individual attention and a talented professional staff, providing a solid foundation and allowing students to transfer with junior status.
“From the first scholarship I received here at FVCC, the very principle, the fact that someone out there in the community took the time and effort to make it possible for someone like me to achieve my dreams is truly humbling,” Crawford said. “I hope that I can someday pay back this debt of gratitude.”
While in Beijing last year for the semiannual International Astronautical Congress, Crawford presented his argument for making Enceladus a top priority for celestial destinations to explore for life in the solar system. He debated fellow would-be space pioneers who favored other destinations, such as the moon, Mars or an interstellar asteroid.
“We know Enceladus has an ocean and snow. And MSU’s own research in Antarctica has shown that life exists in remarkably similar environments,” he said.
In an application video to the IAC, Crawford’s enthusiasm for space exploration is palpable as he talks about the possibilities for exploration on Enceladus, but his childlike fascination with space isn’t naïve.
Crawford honed his chops at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he completed two summer internships. Still, despite his impressive resume, he praises his experience at community college, where FVCC professor Effat Rady prepared him for a career in engineering. At MSU, he benefited from the Montana Space Grant Consortium and small satellite projects at the university’s Space Science and Engineering Laboratory, which provided blocks for a career with NASA.
Crawford is one of many students that FVCC has set on a path toward a bright future in engineering, and the program continues to blossom.
Tanner Morrison is a senior at MSU, majoring in mechanical engineering with an aerospace minor (the same degree that Crawford pursued).
He just completed his internship at Kalispell’s Morrison-Maierle, an engineering firm where he worked designing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC), and said office manager Ryan Jones provided value to his engineering career.
Morrison entered FVCC’s engineering program on the heels of his older brother, Calder Morrison, who also went on to pursue a mechanical engineering degree in Bozeman and now works for ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“My brother and I are a lot alike, and after he completed his associate degree at FVCC, he kept telling me what a great program it was and how well they teach you and prepare you,” he said. “He wasn’t exaggerating. The teachers really engage you and push you to understand the material.”
Now in his senior year at MSU, Tanner Morrison said he is one of four FVCC students attending the engineering program, and all of them are at the top of their class.
“I really enjoy everything I have learned so far, and I’m looking forward to applying it professionally,” he said.
Morrison said his decision to attend FVCC was a difficult one – after high school he was offered a full ride to MSU to compete in the discus throw – but in hindsight it was the best decision he could have made.
“Realistically, in retrospect, that was the best decision I ever made because they prepare you so well for the field,” he said.
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