Working on spacecraft and 3D-printed solar cars, junior accelerates his career at Mason

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George Mason student Michael Riggi sits in front of a black solar car that his student team at Mason, Hypernova Solar, helped revamp.
Michael Riggi, president of Mason's solar car team, Hypernova Solar, poses with Orion, a solar car his team revamped. Photo provided by Hypernova Solar.

Since Michael Riggi was about six years old, his father and brother would take him to a “Cars and Coffee” show in Great Falls, Virginia, on weekends. Being around classic automobiles and luxury vehicles, Riggi said he developed an appreciation for cars, and other machines that go fast, including planes, boats, and rockets.

A black and white portrait of Mason student Michael Riggi sitting in front of his car, wearing sunglasses, and holding a license plate that says "Michael."
Riggi developed an appreciation for cars at a young age. Portrait by Michael Riggi.

Now, as a junior at George Mason University, his career path has also been racing forward.

The systems engineering major working on an accelerated master’s degree is the president of Hypernova Solar, a student organization creating what they believe will be the world’s first 3D-printed solar car

Ultimately, Riggi said he aspires to work in the aerospace industry. His work with Hypernova Solar combined with his degree helped him land an internship with the global aerospace, defense, and security company, Northrop Grumman, he said.

“[Systems engineering] is in high demand in almost all tech industries,” Riggi said.

“Mason is one of the only schools I found in this area that offered a system engineering major, and Mason’s program was ranked higher than [the University of Virginia]’s,” he said. “I chose Mason off their great program.”

When Riggi interned with Northrop Grumman in summer 2021, he said he worked on spacecraft that go up to the international space station—in particular, the Cygnus Mission. Riggi said his tasks involved taking measurements, estimating error, and creating a CAD model of the thruster.

George Mason student Michael Riggi stands holding his hands in front of him while wearing a long blue Northrop Grumman shirt at his internship.
Riggi interning at Northrop Grumman. Photo provided.

“We made a tool that allowed Mission Control to quickly throw in measurements of the motors to see how it affects the angle of the spacecraft on-the-fly, so they can steer the spacecraft,” Riggi said.

“The qualities about Michael that impressed me and my colleagues [at Northrop Grumman] were his imagination and ability to tackle a task that was initially beyond the scope of his previous experience,” said Roseann Alvarez, systems engineering manager at Northrop Grumman. “He shows plenty of growth potential and will be an asset to any future employer.”

“Based on Michael’s performance and his contributions to the [Commercial Resupply Services] program, I would highly recommend Northrop Grumman recruitment of Mason interns and graduates in the future,” she said.

Riggi said he’s excited to intern again with Northrop Grumman in summer 2022.

“There’s something about being on the cutting edge of technology and science that I really love,” he said. “[My internship] helped me realize what traits I value in a workplace and helped me realize specific parts of my education to focus on because I’ve seen what’s actually needed in the workforce.”

In addition to opportunities in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, Riggi said he has enjoyed learning from supportive Mason professors including John Shortle, Abbas Zaidi, and Colin Reagle.

“Michael embodies the ideal of a systems engineer, being able to assemble and lead a large team of students with diverse skills to design, build, and test a complex system,” Shortle said. “He’s a great ambassador for the discipline and will be a great asset in the workforce.”

When he’s not leading Hypernova Solar, Riggi said he enjoys going off-roading and taking photos.

On a snowy day, a blue truck partially covered in snow is parked in front of a medieval style door.
When he's not leading Hypernova Solar, Mason student Michael Riggi enjoys going off-roading with his truck and taking photos. Photo by Michael Riggi. 
Sunset over the water and a bridge of a European city. Buildings line the borders of the water.
Photography by Michael Riggi. 
A gray BMW from the 1980s parked on the left side of a European alleyway with deflated tires.
Photography by Michael Riggi.

“It’s really a great way to blow off steam and relax,” Riggi said, suggesting diverse activities help keep his life balanced yet exciting. “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s being bored.”

That’s another reason he appreciates the opportunities at Mason.

My favorite part of Mason is the community,” Riggi said. “The diverse student population has taught me so much and helped me make so many friends, the amazing faculty have been so helpful, and the community of Fairfax is very diverse and a great space to explore.”

Michael Riggi and members of George Mason University's solar car team, Hypernova Solar, pose for a group photo.
Riggi (front left in green) with members of Mason's solar car team, Hypernova Solar. Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications/George Mason University