Thunderbird School prepares global leaders with an out-of-this-world education
Over the last century, the realm of space exploration has shifted from something that was available almost exclusively to the elite of society – governments, militaries, engineers, astronauts – to something that may soon become fair game for everyone, via existing ventures like commercial tourism, and even a pathway for human beings to become an interplanetary species, pending future developments.
This has opened a window to create leaders knowledgeable of international (and intergalactic) space law and the physics of space itself.
“We are at an inflection point where space is moving from what has been an entirely governmental policy function to a commercial business,” said Greg Autry, clinical professor of space leadership, business, and policy at the Thunderbird School of Global Management and an affiliate professor with the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University. “We are in need of dynamic leaders in that world.”
Enter Thunderbird’s Executive Master of Global Management with a specialization in space leadership, business and policy.
Meeting the need for leaders in space
“In 2021, the money spent in the commercial space sector surpassed the NASA space flight budget,” Autry said. “The space industry is officially more commercial than governmental.”
Consequently, the industry is in dire need of leaders who understand its nuances and can communicate with both scientists and policymakers.
“The people who are stepping into leadership and management positions right now are either engineers who understand space science and mechanics well or Silicon Valley-type entrepreneurs who understand policy and economics well,” Autry said. “We need leaders who understand business and know what an orbital inclination is.”
By creating an Executive Master of Global Management curriculum that addresses the unique nuances of the space economy — and the integration between science and business — Thunderbird is paving the way for professionals to step into leadership roles and shape the future of the space industry.
The 12-month space leadership program is tailored to experienced professionals — namely engineers, business professionals and military leaders — pursuing careers in commercial spaceflight, defense and civil aerospace, artificial intelligence and big data, and next-generation manufacturing.
“Rather than combine aerospace science and economics courses, Thunderbird’s program has been meticulously designed. It is a traditional Executive Master of Global Management with space imbued throughout the entire program,” said Zaheer Ali, high performance compute strategy lead at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, adviser at ThinkOrbital, managing director at NewSpace Finance and professor of space leadership at Thunderbird.
While students are encouraged to participate in classes through ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration to further their understanding of space science, the space leadership curriculum prioritizes industry immersion through hands-on learning. Students have opportunities to participate in case studies, network with industry leaders in private and governmental sectors, and visit facilities such as those for NASA and Space Force, as well as SpaceX. Students build connections that open many doors by learning from and networking with industry pioneers and leaders. Additionally, the immersive program allows students to start contributing to the global conversation immediately.
“Immersion is an important aspect of the space leadership curriculum,” Ali said. “We want our students to start using their degree the first week in the program, not just after they graduate.”
A scholarship to save the world
In 2021, Thunderbird welcomed its first cohort to the program. Two students, Janeya Griffin (’22) and Karlton Johnson ('22) attended courtesy of a new alumni-funded scholarship. When Toby Prosky (’07) and Duncan Blount (’07), co-founders of MINESfund Management, heard about the space leadership program, they were compelled to show their support with a generous donation, creating the Prosky Blount Scholarship for Interplanetary Prosperity.
“Now more than ever, human action has the power to save our planet, and we want to ensure everyone has a seat at the table,” Prosky said. “It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often, and we wanted to take advantage of it, particularly for a few deserving students who have a dedicated interest in the growing commercial space industry.”
Self-proclaimed “space revolutionist,” founder and chair of Equity Space Alliance and founder and CEO of The Commercializer LLC, Janeya Griffin has taken a special interest in STEM inclusivity. She understands the barriers that make it harder for minorities and underserved communities to pursue careers in the aerospace industry.
“We are facing many systemic challenges here on Earth, and we need to ensure they don’t follow us into space,” Griffin said. “Thunderbird’s program is working to achieve just that, and because of this scholarship, I will be able to represent those that have been historically excluded and help to increase the presence and participation of individuals from diverse backgrounds in the new space economy.”
“Success and forward motion comes from the top of an organization,” said retired U.S. Air Force Col. Karlton D. Johnson, chairman of the National Space Society’s Board of Governors. “Thunderbird deeply understands that and teaches the skill of ‘leading from the front.’ Humans will soon be an interplanetary species, and the Prosky Blount Scholarship and Thunderbird have given me an opportunity to facilitate forward movement within the space industry.”
With the help of the Prosky Blount Scholarship for Interplanetary Prosperity, Thunderbird can shape leaders who can start solving intergalactic challenges and create an equitable ecosystem.
To learn more about Thunderbird’s space leadership program, visit the program website.