Marshall named G.A. Ross Award winner, as Purdue's outstanding graduating senior man
As a kid living in a Chicago suburb in the flight path of Midway International Airport, Zachary Marshall’s imagination and interest were piqued as 737s flew over his house multiple times an hour.
Even now as he prepares to graduate from Purdue University, the “aircraft obsessed” Marshall still is in awe.
Almost everything he does or thinks about resolves in some way around aircraft.
Nearly every course he’s taken the last several years has had aircraft in the title or has been aeronautical engineering- or aviation technology-related. The news he gets on his phone to what he talks about with friends is related to aircraft or spacecraft in some way.
And he still loves looking up.
“On campus with the flight training aircraft, I always have to be careful I don’t walk into a pole, when I just look up and watch them,” Marshall said.
He’ll soon have an up-close-and-personal everyday look. In June, Marshall will join The Boeing Company as a systems engineer in its Defense, Space & Security division in St. Louis.
But not before he caps his Purdue career with a special honor.
Marshall was selected to receive the G.A. Ross Award, given to the University’s outstanding graduating senior man who demonstrates high standards of academic achievement, outstanding leadership, strength of character and contribution to Purdue.
Marshall, a double major in aeronautical and astronautical engineering and aerospace financial analysis, certainly checks those boxes.
He has a 4.0 GPA and has been on the Dean’s list in each of his semesters at Purdue while pursuing dual degrees in separate undergraduate colleges as well as a certificate, taking summer courses and multiple 21-hour semesters to graduate on time. He is an Astronaut Scholar, served as president of the Purdue chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and is a member of three national honor societies (Sigma Gamma Tau, Mortar Board, Phi Beta Kappa). He has made significant research contributions with mentor John Mott, an associate professor in the School of Aviation and Transportation Technology, in Purdue’s Advanced Aviation Institute for Research — Center of Research Excellence (A³IR-CORE).
“It’s hard to express in words just how much I’m grateful for and honored by my selection from among the incredible talent that defines the students at this University,” Marshall said. “From the people I’ve had the pleasure to work with to the projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on, attending this University over the past three-and-a-half, going on four years, has been a phenomenal experience. Walking through Armstrong Hall and studying in the shadow of this institution’s unparalleled legacy in aerospace is humbling, and I owe a ton to the great Purdue pioneers who paved the way for us. It has been and always will be my goal to embody just a fraction of the ingenuity, intelligence and integrity that my personal role models, like Gene Cernan, Gus Grissom and Neil Armstrong, made Purdue engineers famous for.”
Marshall considers his AAE experience “tremendous,” considering the opportunities that were afforded and the flexibility some professors allowed in creating courses to match students’ interests. He’s especially thankful AAE helped him “learn how to learn,” a skill set he’s already seen prove valuable in internships and knows will continue to be beneficial in the aerospace industry.
The experience gained as president of Purdue’s AIAA chapter also was a highlight during Marshall’s time on campus. He joined the aerospace engineering organization as a first-year engineering student and gradually increased his involvement. He directed outreach activities for Purdue students to tutor children at community education centers, hosted sessions of the Purdue Engineering Student Council’s Middle School MINDS and Elementary School IDEAS events and volunteered to work as a student ambassador at Purdue Aviation Day events.
While serving as president, he oversaw multiple design teams and was charged with equitably distributing funds for vehicle development. He helped pair FYE students with juniors and seniors as a mentorship process and also to gain exposure of the technical experience, exposing them to concepts they wouldn’t get in classrooms at that age. He also led the bidding process to host the Region III student conference, and Purdue was awarded that in 2022.
“We had a lot of opportunities and a lot of great stuff going on in that student organization,” Marshall said. “I know we’re growing at quite a fast rate, regardless of COVID, and I hope that sustains for a while.”
Marshall’s work with Mott was “scholastically probably one of the most powerful forces behind what I’ve been able to do the last few years.” Marshall worked on several projects, the scope always dynamic, and learned more about aerospace and the air transportation system in the process.
“There’s never been one single focus,” Marshall said of his research with Mott. “Perhaps my largest project to date was an aerial separation analysis project between traditional aircraft and drones. But I’ve worked on a ton of stuff from flight delay mitigation systems to aircraft noise assessment systems. Even the first project I started out with as a sophomore was an antenna system on more electrical side of the house. Everything had a tie into aviation. A lot of it was data analysis as well. The common theme was aviation. There were many different angles I took to that with him.”
Each unique and rewarding experience has prepared Marshall to take the next step.
“My approach to the past four years at Purdue has always been focusing on doing great work in my classes and in research and having the confidence that opportunities will come along the way,” Marshall said. “I’ve had nothing but positive interactions with just about everyone I’ve met in the school, be it my classmates, faculty and staff. It’s been an incredible experience.”