Mitch Donoughue: Reaching New Heights

From the Gustavus physics department to work with Boeing and NASA, senior Mitch Donoughue is reaching for the stars.
Posted on April 12th, 2021 by

by Heidi Newbauer ’06

When Gustavus senior Mitch Donoughue was trying to decide between his top three colleges—Trinity, Texas A & M, and Gustavus Adolphus College—it did not take long for him to decide after he talked with physics professor Paul Saulnier. Gustavus had initially been in Mitch’s top choices because his parents, Timothy and Katrina, were alumni. The legacy aspect of continuing at Gustavus was important, but that conversation with Saulnier sealed the deal. Donoughue says, “He told me about the physics program, and my decision was pretty much made after that.”

In high school, Donoughue had a passion for building and creating things. He built a barometer and an optical system for magnifying things. He says, “I have a curiosity for how the world works. Physics is a really good background for that.”

His curiosity continues to evolve. He is the president of the Rocket Club at Gustavus, an organization that was initially started the fall of his sophomore year. The members get to create, build, and test small rockets that actually launch. He enjoys it, too. “I get to solve problems and put together something that does a cool function.”

Every year during the spring semester, Donoughue and the other physics majors build Pinewood Derby cars and test them. There are two different tracks in one of the labs that are designed to compare car speeds. There are also prizes for the slowest and fastest cars. It’s a fun opportunity to experiment with the concepts they’ve learned in the classroom through a hands-on experience.

Mitch Donoughhue ’21

In addition to the rigorous classroom learning and lab opportunities, the Rocket Club and yearly Pinewood Derby are a part of what makes the physics program stand out for him.  Other things that make the program engaging are game nights and department lock-ins. “There’s a great sense of community. The engagement with the professors and close relationships I’ve built have brought great opportunities” Donoughue says.

One of the events that Donoughue has found especially fun are Demo Days. This is an event where local elementary school students come to campus and learn the basics of physics. Many experiments are set up and the physics students simulate them for the school kids. “We get to explain basic physics to them and do lots of experiments. It’s a fun event.”

Whether at these hands-on events or in the class, Donoughue brings his passion to life. Saulnier, who is also Donoughue’s adviser, says “Mitch brings the same energy and passion to all that he does within the department. He is always a pleasure to have in class. He is attentive, thoughtful, and curious about his coursework.”

Aeronautical engineering is at the forefront of Donoughue’s interests. For the past three years, he’s done three different internships with Boeing. His first internship involved working with International Space System (ISS) Structures and Mechanisms team. “It was a lot of coding. I was part of a team that did a survey to investigate any possible structural defects or changes in the health of the ISS solar arrays,” he says. His second internship was also with the ISS, but more with model-based systems engineering (MBSE) and data analysis. “We did some data analysis on anomaly reports—reports for external payloads. As part of the science mission of the ISS, many experiments are done for a variety of things,” he says.

He carried on with that data analysis work throughout his junior year and is currently working part-time on his third internship that he started with Boeing last summer. He says, “I am currently working with a team on the commercial engine replacement program for the B52. I do requirement and verification writing for the virtual system prototype (vSP), which is a set of models for the B52.” Donoughue plans to continue this internship after he graduates.

With his love of physics and engineering comes his passion to play music. Donoughue is also a music minor and plays bass in the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra. He started playing bass in fifth grade and piano in second or third grade, and practices with the organ and guitar. “Another perk of Gustavus is that you can do a bunch of things. There are a lot of creative opportunities,” he says.

Ruth Lin, music professor and director of the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra, says that “Mitch is a dedicated member of the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra. He is a naturally gifted musician who always shares his love of music, and music-making in good humor. Since he is a physics major, he approaches music with another layer of understanding.”

Donoughue’s good spirit and passions are bringing him to new heights. Both professors Lin and Saulnier say that Mitch’s good sense of humor and his friendliness make him a great collaborator. When asked about his plans after graduation, Donoughue says, “I definitely want to work in the Aerospace sphere. Maybe graduate school in either mechanical or aerospace engineering.”

Either way, more rocket launches aren’t out of the question for this high-flying Gustie.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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