Be where your feet are.
Said by Decorah High School boys cross country coach Brad Johansen, it’s a statement that has propelled Decorah native Loden Henning far beyond his days as a cross country harrier for the Vikings.
Those five simple words are a daily reminder for Henning to be present. They’ve also helped him grow from a 2016 Decorah High School graduate to starting his first career job, working for SpaceX in Seattle, Wash.
Finding his path
For Henning, the son of Mark and Stephanie Henning, engineering is a family interest. His dad is an engineer and older brother Dylan pursued engineering at the University of Minnesota. His younger brother Owen is currently studying engineering at Iowa State.
Loden wasn’t initially sure of his career path. His interests spanned from teaching to medicine to something in the arts.
“Towards the end of high school, I found myself gravitating towards engineering because I felt it offered the widest range of opportunities post-graduation,” he said.
Henning also kicked around several college options. Initially, he planned to study electrical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. However, the reality of paying for an out-of-state education opened the door for other opportunities.
Henning applied to the University of Iowa, with the plan to enter the famous writers’ program to write children’s movies and TV shows. An opportunity for an engineering scholarship from Gemini Sign Products, plus the variety of career paths for an engineer, made Henning follow in the family footsteps. Once in Iowa City, Henning initially thought of transferring to a larger engineering school; however, the student organizations and career experiences Iowa had made it clear this was the right home for him. He chose to focus on industrial engineering.
“I liked it because industrial engineers wear many hats, can work in just about any industry and are really well suited for the modern data-driven business world,” he said.
Henning made the most of his time at Iowa. He credits his time in the Decorah school system with giving him a foundation for time management as well as a zeal for things outside the academic sphere. He used those tools while spending a summer studying at the Hong King Institute of Science and Technology in Hong Kong, China. He also honed his engineering skills while working in a research lab and serving as a teaching assistant.
Going to SpaceX
While Henning has always had a fascination for SpaceX launching and landing rockets, he never dreamed of working for the company owned by Elon Musk. However, when he learned that fellow Decorah classman Timothy Winter had interned there in 2019, Henning decided to throw his hat into the ring. SpaceX has one application for all its internship positions. After three technical interviews, Henning landed a role on the Supply Chain Reliability team in Seattle.
“Never did I predict that I would work at SpaceX, but the coolest opportunities are often the most unexpected,” said Henning.
The Supply Chain Reliability team works on Starlink, a satellite internet service SpaceX is currently building.
“Starlink requires thousands of satellites to serve internet to the entire globe, and we build the satellites in-house. This presents us with a unique cocktail of the challenges faced by space organizations and by electronics manufacturers,” he said.
For his summer project, Henning created a system to automatically take and analyze the data created from manufacturing the satellites. Henning was able to continue his work with SpaceX this fall, working part time while also finishing his degree at Iowa.
Graduating at the end of December, Henning will now move west to Seattle to begin his full-time career working for SpaceX.
“I’m very much looking forward to seeing my coworkers again, being able to dedicate more attention to my SpaceX work and learning a whole bunch,” he said. “I get butterflies in my chest knowing that my team is connecting communities to the internet for the first time and allowing a whole new generation of kids to set their minds racing the same way I did.”
Viking for life
While he’ll be leaving the Midwest for a new home, Henning has a solid foundation behind him.
“Maybe it’s the Viking in me but I can’t help but think of our school system as the heart of our town. I will forever be grateful for the amazing teachers, administrators and coaches of the Decorah Community School District. What an honor to learn from people with such passion and humanity, and what a privilege to grow up in a culture of learning, compassion and well roundedness,” he said. “The successes of our school system is in no small part due to the amazing community it’s nestled in. It’s hard to imagine Decorah schools being what they are without a community that supports academics, athletics and the arts.
“Being surrounded by so much love and laughter really solidified my admiration of our community. How lucky I am to call Decorah home.”