When Dr. George Davis was a young child, he remembers sitting in front of the television with his mother as they watched one of the last Apollo Moon landings. Less than 10 years later, he watched the first Space Shuttle launch. Completely fascinated with the idea of space exploration, Davis knew from an early age that he wanted to be an aerospace engineer. Not only did he fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a “rocket scientist” by completing all three of his aerospace degrees at UT Austin — he is now a successful leader in the field, working as founder and president of his own space company, Emergent Space Technologies.

George Davis and Karsten Larson
Dr. George Davis is shown here with undergraduate aerospace engineering student Karsten Larson, one of the recipients of an Emergent scholarship.

Longhorn Years

During his time spent as a Longhorn in the halls of WRW, Davis earned a USRA fellowship under the mentorship of his MS advisor, Dr. Wallace Fowler, was an active member in Sigma Gamma Tau and participated in intramural sports such as softball and basketball with other ASE/EM students. “It’s easy to fall in love with the university you attend. It’s an awesome time in your life,” said Davis.

While pursuing his PhD, Davis met his wife, Elizabeth at the bus stop outside of the RLM building. They struck up a conversation, and after some time, it was clear the bus was late and she decided to walk home. “I then chased her across the street to get her number. Everyone at the bus stop had heard our conversation and seen me run across the street,” said Davis. “When I came back successfully, they all started clapping!”

Early Career

Three years later, the couple married and moved to Colorado where Davis took a job as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder. But soon after their first child was born, Davis began looking for a career change that would support his growing family. He landed a job with the Orbital Sciences Corporation as a contractor at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. There he worked in the center’s spaceborne GPS technology group with Dr. Glenn Lightsey, now a UT ASE/EM professor. His time at Goddard was short-lived, however. When the funding for spaceborne GPS research dried up, he began to search for new work.

Emergent is Born

At the peak of the Internet bubble, the benefits and opportunities of the IT industry seemed limitless, so Davis left the aerospace field behind to join a web development company. In 2000, however, the IT bubble burst, and the crash left him considering his next move. Missing aerospace engineering, and knowing from former colleagues that NASA was investigating the use of formations and constellations of satellites to conduct revolutionary Earth and Space science, Davis made the bold move to start his own company. His intent was to combine emerging technologies from the web, Internet and e-commerce with deep domain knowledge of guidance, navigation and control. In 2001, Emergent was born.

As president of Emergent, Davis spends most of his time managing the company and no longer works as an engineer on a daily basis. Entering the corporate side of his field, he has had to learn how to manage his company, lead employees and successfully write proposals through trial and error. “There is something to be said about being blissfully ignorant about starting and running a business,” said Davis. “People can warn you, advise you, or relate their experiences to you, but until you have done it yourself, it won’t really sink in. If I knew then what I know now, I might not have started Emergent!”

Giving Back

In 2004, Davis was invited to serve on the UT ASE/EM External Advisory Committee (EAC). Excited to support his alma mater and to work with students again, he signed up for the duty, enjoying it so much he stayed on for three terms. On the EAC, Davis served as a representative for small businesses in the aerospace field and advised students pursuing their future careers. In his last term he served as chair of the committee.

“My biggest enjoyment [of serving on the EAC] was seeing the quality of the students that were still coming into and out of the department,” said Davis. “I was always amazed after seeing the projects they worked on and am still in awe of their dedication and hard work.” Davis said the reason he has hired many UT aerospace graduates to work at Emergent is because he knows the quality of the curriculum and the professors in ASE/EM and that the students “come out with this confidence and expectation of success because of their work on the student projects.”

Because of Davis’ passion for UT ASE/EM and for engineering education, he felt the need to give back to the department. He and Dr. Sun Hur-Diaz (BS ASE ’88), Emergent’s Vice President for Engineering, developed a program to encourage young women in the aerospace engineering program to stay and not change their major. The program, Women In Research and Engineering Development (WIRED), is open to sophomores with a minimum GPA of 3.2 and the intent in staying in the ASE/EM undergraduate program. It comes with a stipend of $1,000 and the opportunity for an internship at Emergent the summer after their sophomore year. Emergent has also supported other ASE/EM undergraduate scholarships and student projects over the years.

When asked to give one piece of advice to our students, Davis’ response was to recommend that they get involved with clubs and projects and interact with their student peers, especially outside of class. By becoming involved in activities that require social interaction, students will learn to work and network with other engineers that they will cross paths with later in life. “Get involved and meet people,” said Davis. “Build and grow your network.”

George and Elizabeth Davis now live in Ellicott City, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore, with their three children, two cats and a dog. When Davis is not working at Emergent, he is likely coaching or watching his kids play youth sports or attending one of their school concerts.

For more information about Emergent Space Technologies and the work that Davis and other Longhorns in his company do in the field, visit
www.emergentspace.com