Skip to main content

Turning Obstacles Into Superpowers

A childhood spent aiming for the stars and four years as part of the Wolfpack are launching Shaun Deardorff into a future filled with sky-high possibilities.

2024 NC State graduate Shaun Deardorff poses in the Raleigh Founded location on Centennial Campus, with lightbulbs shining in the background.
Shaun Deardorff poses in his regalia in the Centennial Campus location of Raleigh Founded — a company affiliated with NC State that provides entrepreneurs with business and networking resources.

Shaun Deardorff was born for bold ventures. The child of educators — his mother and father both earned doctorates from NC State — Deardorff was encouraged by his parents to dream big and stay curious about the world around him.

At times, his mother’s career as a teacher of intercultural communication took the family from their North Carolina home to live in countries as far spread as China, South Africa and Australia, where he learned to appreciate people of differing backgrounds. Deardorff’s father, a physics professor, nurtured his son’s engineering interests by teaching him to build and fly model rockets, kites and remote-controlled aircraft.

“My passion has always been for things that fly — and for space,” said Deardorff. “Since I was four or five, I’ve wanted to be an astronaut.”

Meet Shaun Deardorff

Business owner. SpaceX intern. New NC State alum.

But flight wasn’t Deardorff’s only passion. Fueled by a talent for creative endeavors, including drawing and origami, he also discovered an early penchant for entrepreneurship. At age 10, Deardorff launched his first business, a neighborhood lawn care service, followed later by an art and portraiture business. In 2019, after earning his Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 remote pilot certificate, he founded Airmage LLC, with the goal to use drones to capture aerial content for clients and “take film production to a higher perspective.”

“I saw the gap in the market for aerial videography and photography,” said Deardorff. “So I took my experience flying drones, and turned that into a business that could grow.”

A student stands in front of a building with a remote in his hand releasing a drone into the air.
Deardorff, who carried his love for things that fly from early childhood to NC State, poses with a drone outside the James B. Hunt Jr. Library.
A young child smiles while wearing an orange astronaut uniform.
A young Deardorff dreaming big while wearing the spacesuit of a NASA astronaut.
A drawn portrait of the musical artist Taylor Swift.
Deardorff’s creative talents include drawing, with a focus on hyperrealism, as showcased in this portrait of Taylor Swift.
This video, featuring a display of synchronized holiday lights to musical accompaniment, showcases Deardorff’s skills as an aerial videographer.

In the spring of 2020, as the world entered a global pandemic (and as Airmage LLC landed its first client), Deardorff was finishing high school and deciding his college destination. He chose NC State’s College of Engineering, where he could stay close to home, major in aerospace engineering — with a minor in business entrepreneurship — and benefit from a suite of scholarships. Having missed out on many activities in his final months of high school due to the pandemic, however, he was challenged again when students were sent home for remote learning several weeks into his first college semester.

“It was hard on everyone,” said Deardorff. “For that first year and a half, the majority of activities were on Zoom.”

A drawn portrait of a high school graduate wearing a mask, with tears in his eyes.
This self-portrait captured Deardorff’s emotions — and those of many in his high school class — as the traditions of graduation were upended by the pandemic.
A student, wearing a mask, poses in a workshop surrounded by remote-controlled vehicles.
Deardorff poses in a workshop during the pandemic, surrounded by drones and remote-controlled vehicles.

But Deardorff persevered. Returning to campus in the spring, he began to tackle the types of engineering challenges he’d face in his career by solving problems through teamwork.

In 2022 — after completing a remote engineering internship with the FAA — he embarked on an in-person internship at SpaceX facilities in Redmond, Washington, where he helped construct, test and improve the antennas onboard V2 satellites for the company’s Starlink orbital network, which supplies internet services to more than 70 countries. Internships and activities with organizations like Rocket Lab and NC State’s student-led Liquid Rocketry Lab further diversified his growing skill set.

A research proposal submitted by Deardorff and his senior design team for NASA’s 2024 Gateway to Blue Skies Competition. The proposal involves deploying the Poseidon UAV system, a wireless-charging, computer-vision AI drone that aims to improve hurricane disaster response for communities facing increased risks from climate change.

Throughout his undergraduate experience, Deardorff continued his entrepreneurship. He’s managed side ventures, such as a coffee shop — Espresso Yourself — in his freshman residence hall. He’s served NC State as an Entrepreneurship Student Ambassador, a mentor at the Albright Entrepreneurs Village and as director of merchandise and finance for the Krispy Kreme Challenge. And with a growing roster of employees, he’s expanded his main venture, Airmage LLC, tripling its profits over the past year while capturing aerial content for global brands like Amazon and Coca-Cola.

“I wouldn’t change my experiences now for anything,” said Deardorff. “I wouldn’t have met the people I did — my friends and my girlfriend — without them. Being able to throw myself into all these new things, it’s been incredible.”

Deardorff plans to return to NC State this fall to pursue a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering by researching methods to build new generations of spacecraft using origami physics and ultra-thin composite materials. He’s also applied for a Fulbright fellowship in Namibia to study how drones can be deployed to halt the poaching of endangered rhinoceroses. Someday, in the not-too-distant future, he hopes to leverage his experiences to apply for NASA’s Artemis astronaut program.

“As an individual who’s part of the neurodivergent community — part of the autism community — it’s been a challenge to get to where I am now,” said Deardorff. “I’ve been bullied and had hurdles to overcome. But I’ve also learned to use my neurodivergence and not treat it as an obstacle. For me, it’s my superpower.”

If there’s any group of people who can overcome any adversity, any obstacle, it’s our class.

According to Deardorff, he’s not the only one with a superpower.

“I’ve got one word to epitomize this class of 2024 — perseverance,” he said. “We’ve overcome a global pandemic. If there’s any group of people who can overcome any adversity, any obstacle, it’s our class.”