For students attending a presentation by Stan Nowak ’99, chief brand officer at AeroVironment, Inc., Syracuse University’s stadium became the surface of Mars. Nowak, who earned a degree in industrial and interaction design at Syracuse’s College of Visual and Performing Artsoften comes to campus to help students envision new worlds of potential for their careers and how Syracuse can prepare them.
“The importance of building a solid base, a real practical and theoretical training base, is emphasized in Syracuse. It has helped me in my career and in my role at AeroVironment,” says Nowak. He adds that a solid understanding of cross-functional elements makes everyone a much better designer, and the Syracuse program helps bring that to light.
The importance of building a solid foundation, a real practical and theoretical training base, is emphasized in Syracuse. It has helped me in my career and in my role at AeroVironment.
—Stan Nowak ’99
AeroVironment is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of defense tools, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and systems. The company’s tactical UAV systems are proliferating throughout the U.S. Department of Defense, and they’re also known for applying aerodynamics to industries beyond the military, including agriculture and emergency response.
During a recent visit to Syracuse, Nowak and a team of AeroVironment engineers demonstrated a working prototype of the Mars helicopter, Ingenuity. They designed it in conjunction with NASA to go into space, carried on the Mars rover, Perseverance, the centerpiece of NASA’s $2.7 billion Mars 2020 mission. The rover and Ingenuity successfully arrived on Mars in February 2021, and Ingenuity became the first aircraft in history to perform powered, controlled flight on another planet. It marked a giant leap for robotic technology and demonstrated the viability of drones for planetary exploration.
Nowak graduated with a close-knit group of industrial design students at Syracuse, and he continued to maintain close ties with the University. Several years ago he got in touch with the faculty of VPA design school and scheduled visits to meet students and find top-notch interns for opportunities at AeroVironment. “We actively embrace design thinking by incorporating design concepts into all aspects of the business. We view design as a function that inherently works alongside cross-functional teams, such as engineering.” He knows firsthand how well Syracuse prepares students for this.
In my role at AeroVironment, I provide perspective on where our products can go, how they can be used, how we can speak to end users, and how we can engage in user-centric design. All of these things I learned in the industrial design program at Syracuse.
—Stan Nowak ’99
During their presentation, the AeroVironment team explained some of the design challenges for flying conditions on Mars, conditions never encountered before. For starters, Mars is about 33.9 million miles or 21 light minutes from Earth, cold Martian nights typically fall to -148 degrees Fahrenheit, and the atmosphere is very thin. To get to Mars, the Ingenuity helicopter is stored under the Mars rover and is launched from a rocket. It must be able to withstand excessive shock load – it must be strong, rigid and also light. At just 4 pounds on Earth and 1.5 pounds on Mars, Ingenuity had a tall order to deliver. And he did. “Ingenuity is a stepping stone to other new worlds,” Nowak told the audience. Next stop? Titan, the moon of Saturn.
The spirit of exploration is an integral part of Nowak’s professional life and career path. Nowak began his career in California working in industrial design. But, he was also drawn to the film industry and began to recognize himself as a storyteller. As he explains, it was not far from his studies in Syracuse. “What I learned in the industrial design program about creating a story – about marketing, developing a product and promoting a product – also influenced my work in certain types of storytelling for the film industry,” he explains.
Nowak entered the film industry through a seemingly unlikely path, working in costume and makeup. He developed his creative side and engaged in a complex culture and organizational structure before a writers’ strike in the early 2000s set him on a new trajectory. After Hollywood, Nowak began a new role at AeroVironment’s Simi Valley plant, starting as an engineer involved in the development of unmanned aircraft systems. He quickly excelled and was well positioned to help launch the company’s marketing department in 2005. “There was an explosion of growth within the company at that time,” he says. “And I was ready to be agile in a cross-functional environment.” Fast forward, Nowak now leads the creative marketing team – a talented team of motion graphics artists, production staff and graphic designers – who collaborate to tell the AeroVironment story.
“In my role at AeroVironment, I provide perspective on where our products can go, how they can be used, how we can speak to end users, and how we can engage in user-centered design,” he says. “All those things I learned in the industrial design program at Syracuse.”
We alumni care about the University and the students, and we want them to succeed as we have. The students coming out of Syracuse are going to be a game changer. They are going to bring amazing new things into this world.
—Stan Nowak ’99
Nowak takes every opportunity to encourage students to capitalize on Syracuse University’s extensive network. “We alumni care about the University and the students, and we want them to succeed as we did,” says Nowak, adding that he sees his involvement with students paving the way for the future. to come up. “Students coming out of Syracuse are going to be a game changer,” he says. “They are going to bring amazing new things into this world.”
Betsey A. Brairton
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