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Jared Blanchard will represent the graduates as the student speaker at BYU’s Commencement exercises this month. Like many of his fellow classmates, he has accomplished a lot during his time at BYU.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in mathematics, Blanchard is the Autonomy team lead for the University Mars Rover Challenge. His honors thesis, “Uncertainty in Optical Particulate Counting Sensors,” explored a solution to mitigate the health problems and environmental damage caused by the burning of biomass in homes across the developing world. Off campus, he interned with MIT Lincoln Laboratory where he helped develop software that simulates pilot responses to ACAS-X aircraft collision avoidance systems.

Blanchard also speaks three languages (English, Spanish and German), is a member of the BYU Men’s Chorus and captained six intramural athletics teams.

Jared Blanchard was a team lead in the Mars Rover competition
Photo Credit: 
Savanna Richardson/ BYU Photo

University Communications’’ Natalie Ipson recently met with Blanchard to discuss his BYU experience and what advice he’d give to other students.

Q: You’ve explored the hazards associated with cookstoves in developing countries, worked with MIT and are part of the Mars Rover Team. What motivates you?

Jared Blanchard: I’ve always been interested in science and dreamed of being an astronomer. When I was little, I had a Lego space shuttle in my room that had a mechanical arm with the Hubble Space Telescope attached. My grandpa was a physicist for Boeing and he helped with the Apollo missions, and I always thought that was really cool. I feel like we’re so close to getting to Mars, with NASA and SpaceX both making big pushes, and that’s been my career goal – to somehow help get people to Mars.

Q: You’ve been involved in so many activities at BYU outside of your class work, is there a favorite extracurricular that stands out?

J.B.: My favorite may change depending on the day, but intramural sports has been constant through my time at BYU. It’s been good exercise and keeps me active and social throughout every semester. I’ve even been able to play on dodgeball, basketball and volleyball teams with my brothers and wife. It’s a really good way to make friends and keep up those relationships. I have a few friends that I never see unless I have an intramural game with them because they’re so busy with other things. And that glorious “intramural champion” t-shirt was always enticing to me.

Q: Looking back on your BYU experience, what advice would you give to students still working toward graduation?

J.B: Every semester I feel like I’ve been able to find better ways to use my time. As a freshman, I would go home for lunch every day and walk back to campus. That’s an hour or so gone every day, so I gave that up and started packing lunches. My sophomore year, I took an English class that required a lot of reading, so I’d just read as I walked to and from class during the 10-minute breaks. Reading for 10 minutes six times a day gets you an hour of reading that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. I ran into a few trees and bushes doing that, but I think it was worth it.

TA labs were also a great resource for cutting tons of time off of my homework load. When I worked by myself, I would get stuck and waste time. And when I worked in groups outside the labs, sometimes I would waste time chatting. The TA labs helped me stay focused and allowed me to quickly find answers to my questions.

It’s also important to schedule in time for having fun, eating healthy food and sleeping. Depriving yourself of those things for the sake of homework or projects just makes it harder to focus and slows you down in the long run. Sometimes you can’t help it, but a little preparation can go a long way in keeping your body healthy and your mind happy.

Q: What’s Next?

J.B.: I’m going to Stanford for graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics. There’s a lot of work, a lot of work, being done in autonomy right now. Aeronautics and astronautics can be applied to things like driverless cars and industrial robotics as well as satellites and aircraft. I’d like to focus on autonomous vehicles and getting them to work with as little human input as possible, based on sensors and algorithms. Hopefully, some of my work will make space travel easier and safer in the future.