The student-run magazine of San Francisco State University

Xpress Magazine

The student-run magazine of San Francisco State University

Xpress Magazine

The student-run magazine of San Francisco State University

Xpress Magazine

An Out-of-This-World Experience

Talon Chaulkin Browning’s launch to success in mechanical engineering
Andrew Fogel
Oskar Kenyatta Garcia (left) and Marc McClure (right) prepare the rocket during a Fog City rocket launch in Lot 25 on campus

Atop SF State’s Lot 25, students wearing safety goggles, bright red neon vests and red hard hats stand around in anticipation. Staticky conversations crackle from the refurbished walkie-talkies they are using to communicate. Yellow caution tape surrounds a designated area where rockets built by students in the Fog City Rocketry Club are set to launch. Talon Chaulkin Browning, vice president of the club, leads the countdown through his megaphone. 

“Ten, nine, eight…”

With seven seconds left, everyone began chanting along. 

“Six, five, four…”

The button to release fuel into the rocket was pressed. 

“Three, two, one.”

A rocket launches into the sky, reaching the height of the trees. The group cheered, reveling in their first of many victories to come.  

This is the first time any student organization has held an event like this on campus. Fog City Rocketry hosted the launch on Feb. 16, making history under Browning’s leadership.

From a young age, Browning loved to play with Legos, building objects from his imagination, brick by brick. Over time, the Lego bits and pieces eventually evolved into the circuits and batteries he now uses to build rockets.

“I’ve always been interested in the mechanics of things and how things work,” said Browning. “I [have been building] cars, taking things apart and [putting] it back together […] since I was a kid, and really wanted a place to grow.”

Along with other kids, Browning would get boxes filled with Lego pieces. The projects would eventually evolve into somewhat of a competition, as he would see the other cool objects kids could build. Browning’s need to build things faster, bigger and better sparked his passion for engineering. 

Browning, 27, grew up in San Francisco. He spent his early years in the foster care system as his parents were incarcerated for drug abuse. While under the care of various foster homes, he moved all over the Bay Area including Oakland, Hayward, Fremont, Newark and Union City. Although he didn’t have a stable home, he maintained his love for engineering. 

“I went to a foster care facility one time. I was given a little radio-type thing and the radio didn’t work,” said Browning. “I sat there with the mom of the house at the time and she took it apart with me, and kind of like, ‘Well, this is what needs to go here, this is what needs to go there.’ I’m like, ‘How does this lady know how to do this?’ ” 

Browning’s love for building things only grew as his relationship was rebuilt with his father once he was released. During the time he spent under the care of Child Protection Services, Browning got to see his father once or twice a year. His passion would develop more as his father would take him to his engine shop, where he would immerse Browning in the world of mechanics. 

“Every time I went to visit him, it wasn’t like we were visiting,” said Browning. “It was more along the lines of like: we’re gonna go to work; we’re gonna take this apart; we’re gonna put this back together. I guess doing that as a kid really got me excited that I could build something that I want to make work for me instead of going and paying someone who is making something cheap and profiting off of me. I could go buy the parts myself and make it even better.”

During his time at John F. Kennedy High School in San Francisco, 15-year-old Browning started working to pay for his own wants and needs and collecting many hobbies such as singing and playing various sports [12]. After attending Folsom Lake College, he moved back to the East Bay and attended Ohlone College in Fremont. 

“I would go back to my [foster] parents’ house, but I pretty much lived in hotels or rented my own spots and stuff like that,” said Browning. “I was not in the right headspace and was dealing with a lot of—I guess—drugs and crime and stuff like that still, because that’s kind of all I knew up to that point. I spent a lot of my high school in the juvenile detention center.”

Browning graduated from Ohlone College in 2022 with an associate’s degree in Human Development Studies. He now lives in Redwood City and interns at Alef Aeronautics, an aerospace facility in San Mateo, while majoring in mechanical engineering and taking six classes at SF State to earn his bachelor’s degree.

“I know him very well. Why? Because he is always sitting in the first row,” said Lilit Mazmanyan, faculty lecturer for SF State’s School of Engineering. “Always paying attention, looking directly to the blackboard, writing everything with details; that is why when you told me the name, I knew who he was quickly because sometimes, for students, you go back to the list and […] and try to figure out who is that person.”

Mazmanyan met Browning last semester in a class on statics—which is a branch of the engineering department—and is currently taking a class on dynamics with him. She has noticed that he enjoys helping out his struggling classmates, where she sees that others don’t care what could happen to them.

“He speaks with a warm tone; even if he’s frustrated he’ll be like, ‘Okay, let’s just hammer it out,’ ” said Alexandria Nesbeth, a member of Fog City Rocketry. “He lifts the weight off the work as well as spearheads a lot of work as well, to the point where it’s like, sometimes I don’t think we need a full team doing it. I think we just need Talon.”

Nesbeth met Browning in the club and is currently the only woman in the organization. When the organization was being built up, Browning took the position of vice president.

A Fog City Rocketry Club rocket launches in Lot 25 on campus (Andrew Fogel)

“I was excited about aerospace and engineering in general and being able to put some of the skills that I have on the table to help other students learn,” said Browning. 

When members arrive at the club meetings, Browning is the first to greet everyone. He is professional in his demeanor and supports his team from the second they walk through the door, up until the second they leave. 

“He is so skilled and he is so ambitious that he doesn’t have the time to necessarily do that for all of us, which shows because he’ll show up and he’s like, ‘Oh, you know I got all this going on,’ but he’s still showing up,” said Nesbeth. “I think that he is a very hard worker and he’s very competent, which is, I wouldn’t say, rare, but the way he combines those two and is still very warm and light-hearted; I think that’s rare.” 

Within Fog City Rocketry, Browning has built not only rockets, but also relationships with members like Eshton Liu, the club’s director of chemical engineering. 

“He has helped build the club from more of an administrative side of things,” said Liu. “[He] sort of put the skeleton together, if you will: a foundation for the club to sort of work on and operate efficiently to the best of our ability.”

One of the closest relationships Browning has formed was with Jorge Aguilar, the club’s chief financial officer, as they have known each other for around two years. Aguilar feels that Browning has impacted him by showing him what dedication can do in life.

“I think Talon is a really good person to have in your core,” said Aguilar. “I wouldn’t want to have anybody else in my corner fighting for me.”

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About the Contributor
Andrew Fogel
Andrew Fogel, Managing Editor
Andrew Fogel is the Managing Editor for Xpress Magazine for the Spring 2024 semester. He's majoring in photojournalism and minoring in labor and employment studies. If he’s not taking photos, Andrew can be found rooting for the various Philadelphia sports teams. He aspires to be either a staff photographer or a sports photographer in the future.

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