Several people have posted that co-op or internship (or diy) work is the way to go. I strongly agree. Pick a school that has intern/coop program and uses it heavily (ask what space companies use their interns too!) I interned (as comp.engr) many years ago and it made my career. I hired summer interns several times since. When I worked at Aerovironment in Moorpark CA, we hired a number of interns ... many from Cal Poly SLO. A couple of them got hired full time after graduation. (dual major aerospace/mechanical is good recommendation)
Another option (although probably not before doing school work) is DIY. A good friend of mine had an idea for rocket engines, wanted to do space work, but was full time employed doing computer animation (sweat shop job! dont go there!) He got a small cnc mill, lathe, etc and set up in his local makerspace (crashspace in LA) and started building. He did some tests, got known in the biz, took a leave of absence from his day job, took some contract jobs making parts at crashspace.... and now he's living and working out in Mojave for some rocket company. If you want it, work for it, it may happen for you.
Also if you are really serious about rocketry, get the heck out of upstate NY. There are no rocket companies there per se. Then again with that 5hr radius, you may not be really serious. If you want it -be realistic and do what it takes. See the world dude. Upstate is gorgeous but lacks a lot of industry.
And forget the PhD. By the time you finish, no one will want to hire you, and all the fun work will be done.