In an opinion piece for the August 11, 2014 issue of Space News, Zack Hester ‘11 wrote, “While a manned Moon landing or an ambitious attempt at a first Mars landing would bring tremendous prestige to China, current human and robotic endeavors have brought sufficient world standing to China as a space power and serve its geopolitical objectives.”
This publication, along with many other accomplishments since graduating from NC State with dual degrees in aerospace engineering and political science, captures Hester’s focused interest in space policy. His steadfast passion garnered him acceptance last year into the International Science and Technology Policy master’s program at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
“I see this program as a major opportunity to advance my career in the direction of space policy,” said Hester, who began graduate coursework in spring 2014. “The faculty, guest speakers, and events not only deepen my knowledge of the field but also significantly increase my network in a relatively small and niche group of professionals.”
It was during his undergraduate years, however, that Hester initially encountered opportunities for engaging in topics of policy and politics. Among these was his study abroad experience in China with Park Faculty Scholar Clifford Griffin the summer after Hester’s freshman year.
“As someone who had previously never been west of the Mississippi River,” he recalled, “it was an eye-opening experience.”
By living and interacting with Chinese students, Hester gained exposure to a culture and mindsets that were totally new to him. He also witnessed the 2008 Olympic torch as it made its way to Beijing.
Likewise, the Park Scholarship afforded Hester connections with professionals in his field of interest. During his class’ sophomore year Learning Lab II trip to Washington, D.C., Hester met Janie Wise, who was then the internship coordinator on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the Committee of Science and Technology.
“That meeting helped me land an internship on the committee, which was an incredible experience and one that solidified my current interest in U.S. space policy,” said Hester.
While Hester enjoyed conducting research for the committee, he found the most eye-opening aspect of his internship was being present during staff meetings and congressional hearings. This prompted Hester’s realization that he was more interested in public policy than hands-on engineering, and he decided to pursue a career in technology consulting after graduation from NC State.
In August of 2011, Hester began working for Deloitte Consulting in Arlington, Va., a stone’s throw from the policy-making hub of Washington, D.C.
“In consulting, you are constantly working in a fluid environment as you respond to your clients changing priorities and needs,” said Hester. “What’s special about my clients in the federal practice is that they are completely mission-oriented. Gaining insight into the challenges that large federal organizations face today, I believe, is valuable when thinking about policy in my graduate classes.”
According to Hester, clients face particular challenges when technological constraints prevent them from using extensive data to determine the value of a mission or organization. As a result, some of Hester’s projects focus on consolidating this information for key decision-makers.
Hester considers space policy to be his true passion and aspires to continue to work in the area in the years to come.
“I believe that space exploration is a pursuit worthy of great nations,” said Hester. “If you look at the technology, logistics, and funding that goes into developing these powerful rockets and complex spacecraft, you begin to realize that these machines are monuments of our time. Space is of growing importance to our economy and national security; however, some of the greatest challenges in space are not just related to engineering. There are policy and political challenges as well. It’s those challenges that I find the most personal satisfaction in trying to solve.”
Story by Lauren Vanderveen