Junior Political Science major’s career explorations not limited to Earth

McDaniel junior and NASA intern Cody Knipfer (left) with astronaut Tom Marshburn and intern Andrew Simpson at NASA headquarters.
October 15, 2013

Cody Knipfer’s resume is already quite impressive: one of 10 students in the U.S. selected for the Saudi Arabia Exchange Fellowship, an internship at NASA, Baltimore Collegetown Leadershape participant, co-president of Astronomy Club, senator in student government, and member of Model Arab League, Model United Nations and Model European Union teams.

Yet he’s only just begun. The Political Science and International Studies Honors student is a junior at McDaniel.

After spending the summer exploring his passion for spaceflight while getting to know the astronauts who have long been his heroes, Knipfer will immerse in another culture in late December and early January when he travels, all expenses paid, to Saudi Arabia for a study visit. During the year-long Saudi Arabia Exchange Fellowship following his visit, he plans to do speaking engagements and write or blog about his experience to meet the requirement that he share what he learns about Saudi Arabia with the American public.

The 10 students were selected from among participants in the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ Model Arab League. Knipfer was one of eight McDaniel students who represented Algeria at the Model Arab League in 2012 at Georgetown University, where he won an honorable mention award for his representation of the Joint Defense Council. He plans to participate again as part of the McDaniel delegation representing Iraq at the Model Arab League at Georgetown in November 2013.

Although the trip to Saudi Arabia is not his first visit out of the country, Knipfer said this is his first academic exchange trip, and he is “interested in that part of the world.”

His interests also reach out of this world – into space.

“Ever since I was a little kid and saw Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos,’ I’ve been passionate about spaceflight and astronomy,” said Knipfer, who is from Ellicott City, Md. “Being at NASA, in the place where it all happens, was an extraordinary opportunity for me.”

Knipfer spent the summer of 2013 in the NASA History Office, which deals with the study of the history of spaceflight. He maintained the office’s social media – Facebook, Twitter, iTunes and Flickr – by researching and posting interesting facts about the history of spaceflight. He also wrote articles for the NASA.gov website, including an article about first American woman in space, Sally Ride, marking her famous flight on board the Challenger space shuttle on June 18, 1983. (Note: This link is unavailable due to the federal government shutdown, but NASA's website will be back online when the shutdown is over.)

“Meeting the astronauts was really cool – they go up into space but are really down-to-Earth people,” Knipfer said, explaining that a stipend from McDaniel’s Center for Experience and Opportunity (CEO) helped make his internship possible by defraying the costs of his daily commute to D.C. “When you think about it, the astronauts have had an experience 7 billion people haven’t had.”

While at NASA, Knipfer discovered a vision and a direction for the future. All of spaceflight isn’t about science and engineering, he said. There will be a need for attorneys and others to tackle such legal issues as who owns the moon and who has legal jurisdiction in the space station. Universities, he said, are developing and offering graduate degrees in space policy.

But, more discoveries loom on the horizon – in Saudi Arabia and who knows where else – before Knipfer has to choose his direction. For now, he’s embracing every opportunity.