As a senior build reliability engineer at SpaceX, Casey Hopple ’09 is used to thinking on his feet and creating solutions as he goes.
“’Extreme ownership’ is a SpaceX thing and part of that includes constantly trying to come up with new solutions to new problems,” explained Hopple. “SpaceX tries really hard to give you what you need to run. Working as a quality engineer, my job is to make sure we’re not doing things so fast that it’s not safe. I love my job. Everyone has unending amounts of energy and sometimes it’s hard to keep up, but you just keep going. It’s definitely not always easy.”
But Hopple has never desired taking on the simple tasks.
“I’ve always wanted to try new things and take on new challenges. Almost all my jobs have been on the teams that are not the easy ones. At SpaceX, we currently have the biggest manifest we've ever had and it's super exciting. SpaceX takes things that people say are impossible and then they do it. I love being part of a company that believes in pushing the envelope.”
In December 2020, SpaceX reached out to Hopple via LinkedIn and asked him if he wanted a job in the Valves Build Reliability team. The timing was perfect.
Prior to working at SpaceX, Hopple worked at GE, which had been his employer since he joined the co-op program through Lehigh University after his sophomore year of college. He was then selected for the GE Edison Program, which is a three-year leadership program in which he obtained his master's degree in mechanical engineering through the University of Cincinnati. During the program, he gained experience on mechanical systems as well as product support and cultivated a foundation of engineering design skills.
“A huge piece that many engineers miss is thinking about how their decisions impact the customer and I got to see that pretty directly. Receiving questions directly from our airline customers helped me understand their pain points and issues.”
After the program, he wanted more engineering experience, so he transitioned to the new product introduction side for a military program and worked for the last four years of his tenure at GE designing components for a NexGen fighter engine for the F35.
Hopple said majoring in mechanical engineering at Lehigh and minoring in aerospace was “a blessing in disguise. Mechanical engineering is everywhere and the basis of everything, but I always wanted to get back to the space side of aerospace.”
In March 2021, he started working at SpaceX.
“The first project that I was able to work on from start to finish was on Inspiration 4, the first full-civilian crew that has ever gone into orbit. It took months to build the pieces that went onto that rocket. It was cool to watch a launch that you helped with, but it was also nerve-racking because you know the inherent risks of space flight.”
During his time at Country Day, Hopple said he felt comfortable trying new things and taking risks because the school provided bumpers. Not only that but also “the faculty had the willingness to facilitate my path and sometimes in non-standard ways, like through class trips that give you a different perspective of the world. Sports were also awesome too – the school gives everyone a chance to jump in and play, and I loved being part of a team. But what I most remember most is that every teacher cared about what they taught so it made it more fun and engaging as a student.”
Hopple also participated in Breakthrough Cincinnati for two summers as a teacher, which he said gave him a broader perspective of the Cincinnati community and the chance to take on a leadership role, as well as appreciate the opportunities available at Country Day.
As a third-generation Country Day lifer, he feels there is a lot the school did to prepare him for his career path, especially by helping him understand the importance of building connections and presenting oneself professionally. Mostly, though, he encourages today’s students to pursue what they love.
“Everybody has different abilities in engineering. Do what you want, do what's interesting, and don't let people tell you it's not feasible or that it's too hard. We get caught up a lot in ‘what do I need to do to get into this school or get that job?’ and it's good to set those expectations but don't lose sight of the things that bring you joy. When you're interested in something it shows and it becomes super visible when people are hiring you.”
As for Casey’s dream, he wants to be an astronaut one day. He has applied through NASA and will do so again, although his chances might be better with SpaceX. “Elon Musk was talking about needing ballast on future missions and I could be ballast. If I can sneak my way into being an astronaut, that would be amazing.”
And after he reaches the stars and lands back on Earth, we will keep our fingers crossed that he might join the ranks of the family members before him who worked at Country Day. “I was voted in my yearbook as most likely to come back to Country Day to teach, so who knows?”