That’s because Ruiz, a mechanical engineer with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s Space Exploration Sector and a master’s degree candidate in space systems engineering in the Whiting School’s Engineering for Professionals program, was part of the team that spent four years designing, building, and testing the probe’s crucial heat shield and solar array cooling system. Those components will allow the probe to orbit within 4 million miles of the sun’s surface without burning up, so it can collect groundbreaking data on solar winds, the physics of stars, and more.

Ruiz, who will graduate from EP in May, had originally planned to attend graduate school immediately after completing his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Then APL called. “It’s hard to turn down an offer to come build a spacecraft”, he says.

Studying at EP has allowed Ruiz to embrace both dreams.

“[The program’s] flexibility allows me to do what I need to do for my job and still take classes”, he explains of his evening and weekend course schedule, with classes taken both in person and online. “When I was in Florida, I did my homework and talked to my class group to keep our projects going. My classes tie back to my work, so I get to implement what I am learning the next day at work. EP has given me all the tools I need to build my solution from scratch.”