Q&A with Student Rocket Scientist and NSBE@UCI President Quincy Barnes

Quincy Barnes (middle) helps set up the methalox rocket

Feb. 1, 2024 - Getting up at 4 a.m., designing rockets and leading the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at UCI are just a part of aerospace engineering junior Quincy Barnes’s daily life. The UCI Rocket Project (Liquids) is one of the few student clubs in the USA that launched a cutting-edge methalox rocket in 2023. He was a part of that and is now playing a lead role in its next launch.

The UCI Rocket Project plans to launch its next-generation methalox rocket in spring 2025. What do you do as lead propulsion engineer?

It’s my job to lead my team in designing this entire rocket so I give my take on subsystems such as our feed system, our engine and our tanks. Propulsion is one of the more intrinsic portions of the rocket. I basically head what goes on in the entirety of the propulsion system. Without it, it don’t go up so…

How do you feel about being able to learn rocket science in school?

It’s a privilege. I hadn’t had much rocketry experience before I came to UCI. Being able to wrap my head around so many intricate systems that I now understand – it feels great to be able to learn that.

How did you get interested in rocket science?

I chose aerospace engineering when I was a sophomore in high school. I wanted to be an astronaut but wasn’t sure how. I thought I’d try out aerospace engineering and see what happens and it’s been pretty successful so far.

Why do you want to be an astronaut?

I think there are a lot of things on earth that can be solved looking elsewhere. I’d like to try to bring back knowledge from space so we can make life better here.

Why do you get up at 4 a.m. every morning?

I like to do my work early in the morning, to be able to get things done, take care of myself. Then when classes come around, I feel like I’ve taken a jump start on the day. I like to take [the day] by the horn.

What’s in your morning routine?

I make myself breakfast like eggs, bacon, and toast and then I go work out at the ARC (Anteater Recreation Center) or go play basketball. Then I shower and get to lab by about 7 or 8 and just start working on homework before my classes.

NSBE@UCI's booth at the Harambee gathering

What does UCI’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) do?

We’re a club centered around increasing the number of culturally responsible Black engineers inside industry. We try to give the Black engineers and STEM majors here at UCI the resources necessary to be successful like having their resume ready, academic resources and a community to support them. It’s creating a little pocket for them to feel comfortable in case things get a bit intimidating. I became president in the spring of 2023. Before that, we had only about 10 people showing up to meetings, and since then it’s grown to 40 to 50. 

What have you been doing that has been attracting more students?

I think it’s been word of mouth. We’ve come up with different ways to support people. We’ve had mental health workshops, study resources and we recently had an event called “Real Talk: Engineers in Industry.” Engineers from Boeing and Snapchat came to talk to us. It gave us insight into what it’s like to be a Black engineer in industry and what students should be planning for.

Do you have plans for Black History Month?

We’re trying to help promote this movie that’s coming out called “The Space Race .” It’s a National Geographic film about the first Black astronauts who sought to fight racial injustice in space so we’re helping the NAACP fundraise and advertise this documentary. People can RSVP to see the free BHM screening at the Regal Irvine Spectrum on February 10.

What attracted you to UC Irvine?

First of all, obviously the aerospace engineering. I definitely enjoy that. I was attracted mainly to the vibe I felt when I came on campus. I felt like I had a place here when I visited for the first time. My parents also grew up near here and know the UCI medical center. They’re both doctors. Plus, my childhood beach is Corona Del Mar, which is like 15 minutes away, so yeah, I like to go there to clear my head.

- Natalie Tso



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