STEM Professionals

Caitlin Robinson - Rocket Scientist
Robinson

Keywords: aerospace,engineering,modeling,space

United Launch Alliance

Colorado State University

Career Description

I am currently working as a Rocket Scientist at United Launch Alliance in Centennial, CO. I am a computer-aided designer for the company's Major Development Mechanical Ground Support Equipment (MGSE) group. Major Development refers to new projects, which in my case, is a new rocket, called Vulcan, that is set to launch in 2022. The main responsibilities of the MGSE group is to design, test, and develop all of the structural aspects of the launch platform that the rocket sits on prior to launch as well as all of the mechanisms that interface from the ground to the launch vehicle which help maintain specific variables such as temperature and pressure.

What is your educational background and motivation to pursue your field of study?

BS in Mechanical Engineering, Colorado State University When I first started at CSU, I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to pursue as a career. My first internship was in the industrial field, working on engines. I found that it wasn't a great fit for me, so I applied for an internship at ULA. There was nothing prior to applying to the internship that really prompted me to go the aerospace route, but once I started doing research about the company and what their missions and values were, I was sold. During my internship with ULA, I not only learned an immense amount about the company and its projects, but I was also immersed in the world of space exploration and what the future holds for the aerospace industry. The greatest pull to my industry for me was the constant growth and innovation associated with the current and future state of the field.

What have you struggled with or overcome in your educational or life path to your current job?

There was one point in my college career specifically that really challenged my will to continue pursuing engineering. During my third year, I had been taking a maximum credit schedule of very mentally challenging courses, was working two jobs (mechanical engineering ambassador on campus and my industrial internship), had been going through a tough break up, and had just lost a beloved family member. In general, getting through the coursework that engineering requires while balancing extracurricular activities and social aspects of life was very difficult. But I found that having a support system/study group in my major was what kept me going. I also knew that as long as I had my family through the tough times, I could get through any obstacles I faced.

What is the best part of your job or research?

The best part of my job is having the creative freedom to design new and more efficient mechanisms to be used in support of the launch vehicle function and performance. I am able to see a project through, from concept sketches to 3D design to test to assembly. I love being able to push the boundaries of what has already been done in the industry and improve how my designs will be built and used.

What is the worst part of your job or research?

The most challenging part of the job is the amount of communication and group-to-group interaction is required. Because there are so many components of every engineering field that goes into the success of a rocket, one of the most essential components of company proficiency is maintaining constant communication with peers in outside groups of the company. This can be challenging because of how busy everyone is with their own work, so I find that it can be difficult to receive prompt responses or even get a hold of certain people, which can lead to delays in certain parts of the development process.

What is the most exciting part of your job?

The most exciting thing that has happened to me so far is being able to design a major system that interfaces with the rocket itself. I was given the opportunity to design the grounding strap, which is essentially a cable that interfaces with the rocket on one side and with the launch platform on the other side. The purpose of the grounding strap is to ensure that all of the components on the launch vehicle are electrically grounded prior to launch, mitigating the risk of damage to those components. The ground strap is the last ground connection to release from the rocket as it ascends from the launch platform.

What is your most memorable career-related moment?

What has changed about your profession in the past ten years?

The main aspect of my profession that has changed in the past ten years is the increased emphasis on space itself. As technological advancements have increased significantly over time, the capabilities of launch vehicles and the payloads they carry far exceed expectations. There has been a huge increase in the number of large aerospace companies that are being developed around the country, and space is becoming a more mainstream way to provide defense and protection for our country as well as other various commercial applications.

What do you think will change in your industry in the next ten years?

I think there will be an increase in manned missions as well as emphasis on lunar exploration for various resources. The overall public interest in space has been exponential recently, so I see the aerospace industry only becoming more popular. I think that this increased popularity will drive more healthy competition between different aerospace companies, which will lead to uncharted discoveries and endless space exploration opportunities.

Jason Patch - New Product Development Engineer
Patch

Keywords: engineering,prototype,forces,motion

Parker Hannifin

Ohio State University

Career Description

I’m currently a new product development engineer working for Parker Hannifin – Tube Fittings Division. I love my job because I get to come up with new ideas and see them turn into reality! We talk to customers to learn about any issues they’re having, and then we brainstorm about ways we can help them. I then take some of those ideas and model them in three dimensional computer-aided design (3D CAD) software. Next I create “prototypes” using 3D-printing and/or machining so that we can try the designs out. The prototypes help bring our ideas to life. I also get to perform destructive tests on the parts – we literally blow them up! By testing them to their maximum pressure and beyond, I find out if the design is going to work for what the customer needs. Then, I either rework the design or approve it for production, which means working with our manufacturing teams to create the parts in order to sell to the customers.

What is your educational background and motivation to pursue your field of study?

MS in Engineering Management, Ohio University BS in Mechanical Engineering, Ohio State University I’ve always enjoyed building things, such as models and Legos and K’nex as a child. Math was a strength and I enjoyed the sciences, so when I entered Ohio State I started out doing pre-med. However, my favorite subject in high school had been Physics, so I also took an Intro to Engineering course to see if I liked that field better. After a year, I decided I enjoyed engineering more and gave up the pre-med route. I love learning how things work and finding ways to improve them, which is basically what you do as an engineer.

What have you struggled with or overcome in your educational or life path to your current job?

What is the best part of your job or research?

I love problem solving. I get to talk to customers to find out what problems they have that I might solve for them and then brainstorm how to do that. I get to take those ideas and turn them into real-world products and solutions.

What is the worst part of your job or research?

There is a lot of “busy work” involved in any project, like creating detailed drawings, filling out reports, and making presentations – that’s probably the most boring part of my job.

What is the most exciting part of your job?

3D-printing prototypes and testing prototypes are both very exciting because you get to see your idea come to life and also see how well it does.

What is your most memorable career-related moment?

I’ve been able to file multiple patents for my ideas. A patent is a document issued by the federal government stating that the idea is mine and only I can make, use or sell the idea for a certain time period. Patents are exciting because they are published world-wide and they say “I came up with a new idea that no one else has thought of before!”

What has changed about your profession in the past ten years?

Cultural change: Many companies have historically had a culture that expects engineers to work lots of overtime. I believe that more and more companies are starting to realize the benefits of their employees having healthy work-life balances where both their private life and career can thrive. Technology change: 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) makes it so much easier to innovate because you can print your idea and hold it in your hand the same day you thought of it! This makes ideas evolve much faster.

What do you think will change in your industry in the next ten years?

I can see additive manufacturing becoming more and more of the standard, both in prototyping as well as in manufacturing.

James Long - Civil Engineer
Long

Keywords: aerospace,engineering,architecture,construction

HNTB

Cal Berkeley, UCLA

Career Description

I am currently a civil engineer focusing on the key buildings and systems of an airport, or aviation infrastructure projects. I design important projects at airports, including runways, taxiways, terminals, hangars and everything in between. My job typically involves developing construction drawings, specifications, and reports which provide clear direction for contractors to build our projects in the field. I also get the opportunity to witness construction in the field, my favorite part of the job. To deliver a complete design, I use math extensively in the development of airfield layouts (geometry), drainage plans (fluid dynamics), and pavement sections (mechanics of materials). To aid in our calculations, we use several tools including Excel, MATLAB, and custom-built tools like FAARFIELD (FAA Pavement Design) and AviPlan (Aircraft movement simulator). In addition to calculations, we develop our plans using a computer aided design (CAD) platform known as Civil3d. On any given day, I am often working on multiple projects in different stages of planning, design and construction. There is a never a dull moment as a civil engineer at an airport.

What is your educational background and motivation to pursue your field of study?

BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley MBA from UCLA Anderson I have always been interested in aviation and construction since I was a young boy. I practically grew up in a Lego box and was often found in the backyard digging holes or building something. Civil Engineering seemed like a logical career path and I selected that major coming into my undergraduate degree. While at Berkeley, I also started to pursue my pilot’s license. In my junior year, I was introduced to airport design and quickly set out finding an opportunity to work in this industry. I joined my current firm HNTB as an intern and have been working here happily ever since.

What have you struggled with or overcome in your educational or life path to your current job?

As an engineer, it's ironic that math has been somewhat of a struggle for me throughout my life. In grade school, I remember the horror of trying to fill in multiplication tables as part of timed quizzes.  I recall in high-school struggling on the math portion of the SAT and being afraid I wouldn't get into a good school as a result.  At UC Berkeley, I nearly switched to a non-engineering major due to my poor performance in calculus.  Throughout my education, I've had to spend a lot more effort on math than some of my peers and my struggles with math nearly diverted me from engineering on several occasions.  However my passion for engineering drove me to persevere and ultimately provided a tangible application that completely changed my relationship with math.  In my junior year at Berkeley, I started to take coursework which applied math to real world concepts like structures, materials and fluids.  This finally provided a tie between theory and real world applications that allowed me to better understand math.  Especially as I was exposed to the myriad of technical tools we use as engineers on a daily basis, I now look forward to math heavy, quantitative analysis.  By finding real world applications for math, I was able to take it from a weakness to an area of strength.

What is the best part of your job or research?

Watching our designs come to life is immensely rewarding. It is very exciting to see your design move from paper to real life and ultimately see aircraft and passengers start to use it. I have even had the pleasure of landing on a runway I designed and boarding a plane at a terminal I planned.

What is the worst part of your job or research?

Many of our projects rely on a budget, so even if we find a great solution to one of our client’s problems, they may not be able to move forward with our plan if they cannot secure funding. Thankfully a lot of our projects are funded by the Federal Aviation Adminsitration (FAA), so they already have funding in place. We just need to design within the budget.

What is the most exciting part of your job?

Working on the airfield. No question about it. Been doing this for over a decade now and I still get excited when I’m out on the airfield and a plane takes off near me. The power of these aircraft is incredible; you can feel the engines fire-up and the roar as they roll down the runway.

What is your most memorable career-related moment?

We worked on a critical runway project at Van Nuys Airport north of LA. It is the world’s busiest private jet airport and we were reconstructing the primary runway. It was a very difficult project to construct in a short time window but ultimately, we delivered it on-time and on-budget. To celebrate, we did a ribbon cutting on the runway, but it was no typical ribbon cutting. Myself and three others held up two 25’ poles and a stunt plane flew between them to cut the ribbon with its wings. See Figure 1 at the end of this write up.

What has changed about your profession in the past ten years?

Our industry has moved completely to 3d modeling of our designs. Ten years ago, we relied heavily on 2d modeling techniques using simple lines in CAD. Now our CAD models include 3d pipes and surfaces and can analyze a complex design on the fly. The advancements in CAD technology in the last decade have greatly improved productivity and the accuracy of our plans.

What do you think will change in your industry in the next ten years?

Technology will continue to advance and some of the designs tasks we now do manually will be automated through machine learner or artificial intelligence (AI). We will always need engineers to make the necessary judgment calls and audit the outputs from CAD, but I believe in the next decade, we will see computers develop entire plan sets with little effort.

Cody Yarletts - Product Manager
Yarletts

Keywords: engineering,aerospace,forces,motion

Parker Hannifin

UCLA Anderson School of Business, Miami (OH) Univ.

Career Description

I am currently a Product Manager for Parker Hannifin Tube Fittings Division. As a PM, you tend to get involved in all areas of the business – sales, marketing, operations, supply chain, engineering, and accounting – all while being the customer-facing lead for your product. In any given day, I may be visiting a customer to solve an engineering problem, pitching a new product to internal and external shareholders, working on new product development with engineering, or creating a new marketing strategy. It is a very dynamic role—it requires active listening and understanding of the customer and their pain points as well as internal communication, collaboration, and leadership to get things done. One of the best things you can learn from Edheads is a framework for critical problem solving (you will have to solve problems no matter what your future holds).

What is your educational background and motivation to pursue your field of study?

MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Business. MS in Mechanical Engineering from Miami (OH) University. My strengths in school were always math and science and I was always driven to understanding how things worked. I remember being the 5 year old that took everything apart down to the circuit boards just to see how it all went together. I ended up following my strengths into a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Engineering was a great degree because it combined what I was good at, but more so, helped me realize an interest in creating things and leading teams. In my undergraduate and later during my MBA I always found myself helping to lead small teams to create new products or proposals. I wasn’t always the “best” engineer or designer, but I did always have a way of finding out how to bring people with different strengths together to form great teams.

What have you struggled with or overcome in your educational or life path to your current job?

What is the best part of your job or research?

I love that no two days are the same and that I get involved with such a wide range of projects and departments. I always knew I never wanted to be a traditional design engineer and wanted to get more immersed with the customer and helping to solve their problems.

What is the worst part of your job or research?

It can be challenging to have a great idea but maybe not have the resources or the time to invest in it.

What is the most exciting part of your job?

I love working with people and seeing a new product from start to finish. It’s really great to see something you’ve worked on be appreciated by a customer and used for the benefit of others. It’s even more rewarding when you can do that within a collaborative team environment.

What is your most memorable career-related moment?

One of my favorite customers I got to work with was SpaceX. We worked very closely over the years and I got to visit their facility many times and work with some very smart people on a specific design function for their launch pads.

What has changed about your profession in the past ten years?

There has been a lot of changes in the Motion & Control space. First, the industry is aging quite a bit and we’ve seen a huge influx of the younger generation getting involved in a historically mature industry. With workforce turnover you certainly lose a lot of expertise, but it’s also given the industry a bit of exciting energy around the future. Second, the technology itself has changed and we’re seeing a major trend in electrification, Internet of Things (IOT), electronic controls, etc which will be very interesting to see how it all develops in the years to come.

What do you think will change in your industry in the next ten years?

Certainly, there will be more advancement around Internet of Things (IOT) and integrating large-scale industry with the cloud. I also think the electrification trend will continue across mobile vehicle platforms.