When Chris Boles graduates this December with his degree in computer engineering, he’s setting his sights sky-high – on Mars, in fact. And at the same time, he’s lighting the way for those who follow.
Boles, who grew up in a military family, graduated from high school in South Carolina and planned to join his friends at Clemson University. But when his dad got orders to Colorado Springs, he made a last-minute decision to move to Colorado Springs and attend UCCS instead.
His first semester in school was tough. Boles’ dad was deployed to Kuwait, and he felt he should spend more time at home helping his mom and sisters. Then he failed physics – a foundational course for an engineering degree.
“I don’t have the most traditional story,” Boles said. “I chose UCCS at the very last second. I failed physics my first semester. And at that point, I thought, ‘Maybe engineering isn’t for me.’”
With the support of his mom, Boles switched his major to computer engineering, thinking it might be a more natural fit.
“Turns out it was way harder,” Boles said, laughing.
But Boles buckled down, studied harder and made the dean’s list the very next semester. He landed a summer internship with Lockheed Martin, and then another – working first in information technology, then in software development.
That second summer, while working in Lockheed Martin’s Denver office, Boles’ fellow interns nominated him for Lockheed Martin’s Most Influential Intern. Boles won the competition. He was named one of the top 10 most influential Lockheed Martin interns nationwide.
Lockheed Martin has snagged Boles for a third time. After graduating, Boles will take on a full-time role with the aerospace firm, where he will focus on the simulations Lockheed Martin runs to ensure the safety of those going into space.
His work will directly contribute to Lockheed Martin’s Orion program, which will send the first American woman to the room. He will also contribute to the organization’s efforts to build a new refueling station in outer space – and ultimately to the goal of landing humans on Mars.
At the same time, Boles has been accepted to New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, where he will pursue a master’s degree in bioinformatics. Though the academics will be different than his work at Lockheed Martin, Boles knows the value of striking out in new directions.
“You have to be a curious person to work in this field,” he said. “Curious to know what else is out there and what can we learn from it. What I’ll be learning in my bioinformatics program can be applied to artificial intelligence and machine learning at Lockheed Martin – or, it will let me diversify and get into a completely new field.”
Boles’ curiosity and strong connections have taken him far. But for him, it’s even more important that his success shines a light for those who follow.
As president of the Colorado Springs chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, Boles took his responsibility to light the way for others seriously.
“Some of my friends in the National Society of Black Engineers would say, ‘You’re the best of us,’” Boles said. “And I would say, ‘I have to be the best of us right now so that one day, when you’re in the same position, you can be even better than I was.’”
“Being a minority in engineering, I want to help inspire younger people see that it’s possible for them to pursue engineering,” he said. “I failed my first semester of physics, but then I got an internship because I worked so hard. I got into NYU, and they have less than a 20 percent acceptance rate. I want other people to know that they can do that, too.”
And if he was giving advice to other UCCS students, Boles would encourage them to surround themselves with people rooting for their success.
“If you really and truly work hard and surround yourself with people who want you to succeed, you can do anything,” Boles said. “Just feed off of that energy – that we’re all going to make it through this, and succeed, together.”
Boles will be one of a record-setting 1,100 graduates from the summer and fall semesters at UCCS. He will celebrate his achievement during the 2020 fall commencement ceremony on Dec. 18. Congratulations to Chris and the Class of 2020!