Cody Popelka is a quintessential example of a student whose love of schooling and knowledge has taken him huge distances. A sophomore at MSU, Popelka is on track to be in the United States Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidacy program. This program will allow him to conduct his service aboard a nuclear-powered submarine. “I’ll be an actual officer in a few years,” he said. “I wanted to join the Navy because I grew up on a Navy base and I really enjoyed the sub community. I am still friends with people I knew from my dad being in the Navy.” Upon graduation from MSU, Popelka will be going to Officer Candidacy School, followed by Power School, a military schooling program consisting of six months of college-level classes. After these programs, he will go to “prototype” school, where he will learn about the operation of a nuclear reactor, followed by learning about how to deal with any problems that may occur on the sub. Once all of these are completed, he will finally be working on a Navy submarine. “I was going to enlist in high school, but then I got my scholarship instead,” Popelka said. He went to work for the Northwestern Energy branch in his hometown of Cut Bank, and has done so each summer since graduating from high school.
A mechanical engineering major with a 3.8 GPA, Popelka is a driven student. He is a member of several different honor societies, including Alpha Lambda Delta and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. He graduated high school in the top ten of his class. His academic merit gave him the opportunity for a free ride through college with multiple scholarships, including an honor scholarship from the Montana University System.
A long-time resident of Montana, Popelka has adopted several local pastimes. An avid fisher and bowhunter, he participated in a national archery tournament during his junior year of high school by going to the Montana Qualifiers competition and taking third place. He also goes on regular trips around Montana for hunting. When he isn’t on a hunting or fishing trip, Popelka enjoys reading and working with the Auto Desk Fusion 360 3-D design program on his computer, designing parts for guns and machines and occasionally bringing some of these designs to life with his 3-D printer. Popelka engages his desire to learn outside the classroom as well, saying, “I have a deep interest in physics, just not the corresponding deep understanding.”
His love of physics and space doesn’t stop at a desire to learn more about these topics. He volunteers with the Space Public Outreach Team, an organization dedicated to providing free presentations about NASA’s current missions to Montana schools and youth organizations.
After Popelka is finished with his service in the Navy, he hopes to get a job at NASA and would be happy with “any engineering work they have.” Eventually, he would like to retire in a rural community.