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Fascination With Space Helped Shape His Career

Alumnus and Author Shares the Lifelong Impact of His College Experience as a Titan

Feb. 26, 2013

book standing up on end.

Paul Gillebaard is the author of “Moon Hoax.”

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Engineering alumnus and author Paul Gillebaard returned to campus last week, telling a classroom of students that earning his college degree was the hardest thing he ever did.

"You're getting the best degree; I'm so proud of that degree. There's so much you can do with an engineering degree," said Gillebaard, who earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1987.

A speaker during Engineering and Computer Science Week, Gillebaard shared his student experiences, his challenges in the major, his nontraditional career path, and more recently, as a budding author who is fascinated with the space race to the moon.

When he earned his degree more than 25 years ago, graduates were seeking jobs in the burgeoning aerospace industry. But instead of landing a position as an aerospace engineer, Gillebaard ended up as in technical sales with various manufacturers in the power and petrochemical industry, eventually climbing to the top as national sales manager. In 2002, he decided to start his own business, Gillebaard Engineering Co. in Rancho Santa Margarita, which he continues to lead today.

Instead of the traditional career path, Gillebaard discussed the perks, and the demand, for sales representatives with strong engineering backgrounds.

Computer engineering student Andrés Fernandez was encouraged by Gillebaard and his entrepreneurial spirit. "It's nice to hear from former students and learn about their experiences in industry. And that no matter what, you can't give up, you just have to try."

Matias Jofre, a computer science major, agreed, adding that having a Titan alum back in the classroom gave insight into career opportunities. "It's nice to see where graduates have gone and learn about their successes."

While his engineering degree prepared him for his career, Gillebaard said the technical knowledge he gained from coursework also became useful as a first-time novelist. He credits his Cal State Fullerton education for getting technical facts accurate in his debut novel, "Moon Hoax," a historical-fiction thriller based on the space race to the moon.

"Absolutely, my engineering degree that I received from CSUF helped me write such a technical book," he said.

The inspiration for the book is a result of his childhood growing up in Nassau Bay, Texas, near NASA's Johnson Space Center where his neighbors were Apollo astronauts. The father of two teenage daughters recalled his desire to share his boyhood past with them and began researching U.S. space exploration. After spending hours learning about the Apollo program — at the urging of his wife, he developed the idea for the book.

"Moon Hoax" is a space-exploration adventure focusing on America's quest to prove to China that the U.S. won the space race of the 1960s.

Gillebaard never aspired to become a writer, he told the students. But after astronaut Charles Duke of Apollo 16, the tenth man to walk on the moon in 1972, told him the book was a "fantastic read," he was encouraged to continue writing.

"For me, having a man who walked on the moon read it, that's the pinnacle," he said. Now he is working on the sequel, "Space Hoax," and also plans a third book as part of a trilogy.

Mechanical engineering major Luis Velazquez attended the noontime talk because, like Gillebaard, he has an interest in the space program. After he spoke with Gillebaard following his presentation, the alumnus gave him a signed copy of his book.

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

Tags:  Titan Pride