Flaten Lands Summer Internship with NASA


Before entering his senior year of college at Valparaiso University, Paul Flaten, SFLS class of 2010, is spending his summer as an intern at NASA.

Flaten discovered the opportunity through some simple online research and started the 10-week internship on June 5.

“My main project is to convert some legacy Computer Aided Design software from an old computer language called FORTRAN to a more recent language called MATLAB,” Flaten said.

The software Flaten works with is used by NASA to design the patch antennas that are used on research rockets deployed at Wallops Flight Facility. He has already completed his initial task of translating information from one computer language to another and is working with a mentor for the remainder of his internship to test how well the new language is working.

“We are currently in the process of fabricating some of the first patch antennas the new program has designed, and we’ll be measuring their performance in the facility’s compact antenna range,” Flaten said. “After that, we’ll implement any further changes to make the models as accurate as possible.”

To date, Flaten’s favorite part of the internship was his first rocket launch.

“The pictures and videos just don’t do it justice,” he said.

Before he completes his internship on August 11, Flaten will give a presentation summarizing the work he has done throughout the summer. He has also been selected to give a demonstration at a program called INSPIRE, where he will speak about wireless power and backscatter communication – the underlying principles of radio-frequency identification.

Raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Flaten considers himself “the product of a Lutheran education.” He attended Zion Lutheran Church’s preschool, Sioux Falls Lutheran School, and the Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls before venturing out of state to Valparaiso, Indiana, for college. He credits both the schools and the mentors he has met over the years for shaping him into the person he is today.

“I often marvel at the ways that Sioux Falls Lutheran School is impacting my life, even today,” Flaten said. “Early on, ADHD provided a serious obstacle to my education. I can only imagine where I would be if I had not received the support and attention of the staff and teachers at SFLS. Beyond that, I can’t stress how important it is to receive an education where faith and school are joined hand in hand. The knowledge and values that I started to cultivate at SFLS have been vital in defending and grounding my faith throughout my life thus far.”

At Valparaiso, Flaten is involved in the engineering honor society and the local student chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Under the direction of Dr. Dan White, he also conducts research regarding SatNOGS—a project based out of Athens, Greece, that is aimed at developing low-cost, easy-to-manufacture ground stations. Outside the world of engineering, Flaten participates in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the Crusader Pep Band, and the Valparaiso University Jazz Ensemble.

Flaten will graduate from Valparaiso in May of 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. While he’s not exactly sure what his future holds, Flaten envisions himself working somewhere in the space industry.

“I always go into these experiences trying to learn new things,” he said. “It’s always humbling but exciting to know that you still have a lot to learn and experience.”