Student Overcomes ADHD to Aim for the Stars
Reece Moellenhoff is an active, outdoorsy Colorado native who was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age. Sitting still in classes was a challenge for him… and still is. He saw some ups and downs in school—so after graduating, he needed a little time to find his path.
He ended up studying at FRCC before transferring to CU-Boulder to study aerospace engineering. Reece felt well prepared academically and he scored a great internship with Lockheed Martin. But he found that the aerospace program wasn’t quite the right fit for him. After switching majors—and universities—he’s now continuing his internship, and is on track to graduate from CSU with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering (with a concentration in aerospace).
“I Couldn’t Sit Still”
Born and raised in the Fort Collins area, Reece grew up loving to learn and be outside. His grandmother was a big influence in his life. “She helped me learn to ski and hike, taught me about flowers and weather patterns and how to track animals.”
He did well with math and science in school—but was also diagnosed with ADHD at a young age. “I was too rambunctious on the playground,” he remembers. “In class, I couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes. My teachers noticed it right away.”
Now in his twenties, Reece continues to live a very active outdoor lifestyle—hiking, backpacking, rafting, rock climbing and—like a true Colorado native—skiing. “I still don’t like sitting down for lectures. Going into engineering, I enjoy being in labs where I’m learning actual hands-on skills.”
He feels like that was a setback. “I got labeled as the wild guy, the trouble maker. But I learned as much on the playground as I did in classes sometimes.”
Time to Travel
After high school, he got the chance to study abroad at a high school in Brazil through a Rotary International exchange. He spent the next school year living with host families, learning Portuguese and immersing himself in a different culture. He took this time to mature and figure out his next step in life.
“When I got back to the US, I decided to go to FRCC for the price—and it was close to home.” He lived with his parents while in school, and explored different types of classes.
College: Getting Started
He started out taking the courses he knew he would have to take eventually at a university. “Taking those general education classes allowed me to get them done in the safest and most growth-friendly environment,” he says.
He particularly enjoyed the smaller classes at FRCC. “I loved the fact that classes were a max of 25 people. I got more one-on-one time with my teachers. Community college professors were cool because each had their own life—I could ask them about things beyond just the course subject matter. It made them more approachable.”
One of his favorite classes was an environmental economics class with just 10 people in it. “We were able to talk before and after class—you could see our professor’s passion for the subject matter.”
A Strong Sense of Community
Reece also loved being involved outside the classroom. “The Larimer Campus had more of a tight-knit community with clubs and activities. It was a small enough place to actually see people around.” He got involved with the Alpha Omega campus ministry and became vice president of the student body.
“I absolutely loved the people on campus,” he raves. “The age range was different—it was broad. People came from all different backgrounds, from high school students to older married students with families. They didn’t have to be there—it was their choice.”
Failing—and Getting Help
Reece got off to a bumpy start—he failed two higher-level math classes and was pretty disappointed in himself. “I failed often and fast,” he laughs now. But he learned a lot from the experience.
“There was a lot of tutoring available at the academic support center,” he recalls. “I went there quite often.” He took both classes again and passed. “It took a lot of time and effort, but it really helped solidify the things I needed to learn.”
He says this initial struggle also helped him learn how to succeed in a college environment.
“I needed that so I could really learn and get my butt into gear—learn how to study, take notes better, approach my professors’ office hours.”
Reece also needed time to figure out what he wanted to study. He took as many math courses as he could, but also explored activities he enjoyed through organizations on campus. “I initially thought I’d go into engineering,” he remembers. “I always loved working with my hands and building things, designing things. Just figuring out how they work.”
Aerospace at CU-Boulder
Reece applied for the highly competitive aerospace program at the University of Colorado—and got in.
“I had a great foundation from my experience at FRCC. I took intro to differential equations with linear algebra and passed the first time.”
He admits that transferring from FRCC to the big new campus was a bit overwhelming at first. “It was a lot. But I love space.”
“Aerospace is huge at CU. And FRCC definitely prepared me for the academics.”
He got an internship at Lockheed Martin, where he’s getting a lot of experience in many different areas. His first summer there, he worked in software engineering. He returned for a second summer as a systems engineering intern working on a Mars orbiter.
But after a year and half at CU, Reece decided the hypercompetitive world and rigid system of the aerospace program wasn’t right for him. It was time to transfer again.
Engineering at CSU
In the spring of 2020, he started studying mechanical engineering at Colorado State University. The timing was challenging as the COVID pandemic hit, but it ended up working out well for Reece.
“CSU has started to do more aerospace,” he says. “That semester they got approval to do a concentration in aerospace engineering for mechanical engineers.” He will now be able to complete a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace engineering.
In the fall of 2020, things continued to work out well for Reece. He got two major STEM-related scholarships. “The pieces were falling into place,” he says.
Despite changing universities, Reece’s internship with Lockheed Martin continues. This school year he’s working on project engineering for data storage, and this summer he plans to work in business development for human space flight in the deep space exploration program.
After CSU, Reece hopes to do another internship with Lockheed, this time in Washington, DC. “I want to learn about how we make sure government policy and space exploration are in coordination with one another.”
He’s interested in doing systems engineering or business development work—with a focus on governmental relations and/or policymaking. “My ultimate goal is a managerial position with Lockheed—either in engineering or on the government side.”
He still remembers his time at FRCC as being very formative.
“Learning those foundational study skills, how to succeed in academia—there’s no other place I could have done this. FRCC helped me relate to more people and understand that we’re all in this learning process together. It’s a group effort.”