What is your role at Lockheed Martin?
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?
I have always been interested in making and testing things. If I remember correctly, my first formal experiment at the age of 5 was trying to tan a Barbie doll in the sun, in an oven and a microwave. That first experiment was an abysmal failure and I believe got me in a lot trouble. As I got older, I always liked coming up with quirky ways to do things or re-purpose items for uses they were not originally intended for. I’ve always had a natural curiosity for how things work, or how to make things work differently. I did not know it then, but I was doing what engineers do: making things work or understanding why they don’t. In high school I became a diehard trekkie, and decided to give engineering a shot in college. I ended up liking what I was studying and learning so much I went on to receive a PhD in engineering. I would have never have guessed that when I was a senior in high school. I consider what I do now not that much different from my first failed Barbie experiment… understanding how things work (plastic does not contain melanin, nor do microwaves enhance their production) and then using that knowledge to move forward and create new technologies.
What tips or advice would you offer students considering a career in engineering?
I’ve worked with several high school and middle school students over the last 14 years, and one of their chief complaints about going into engineering is that the math or physics is too hard. I personally am not a math fan (don’t tell my boss!) and the first physics class I ever took was my second semester in college (I really didn’t know what I was getting myself in to…). But I liked the problem solving and hands on nature of my field so much that it was worth learning both subjects. I think that is true of anything worth pursuing in life – you have to put in the hard work and dedication even for the stuff you don’t like to do, because it leads to something great. So my advice is: if you like problem solving and creating new things and think that engineering might be a career you would enjoy, do it. Don’t let the things that appear too difficult to learn be what stops you from having a rewarding career.
One of the challenges facing the engineering field is a lack of awareness for what engineering is, and what engineers do. What steps can Industry take to make engineering more relatable to the general public?
In areas where this is possible, having students go to a university and participate in engineering events helps give students more perspective on what engineering is all about. Also, getting to see what an engineer actually does on the job is helpful. I know a lot of talks are given to middle and high school students by engineers or scientist about what their job is, but there is no substitute for hands on experience or watching something being done in front of you. It’s hard to get excited about something when it’s just explained to you, even when it’s done by someone enthusiastic about the subject. If I found a person who had never watched or heard of football before, and tried to explain how exciting the games are and why, I think most of my enthusiasm would not transfer. And they may not even get what I’m talking about even with a diagram and still shots. However, if I took them to a game, with tens of thousands of people excited and screaming for their team, and had a chance to explain the game and rules as it is happening – enthusiasm may take hold. Or at a minimum, I have a better chance that they would understand why everyone else is so excited. I view educating students about what engineering is the same way. They need to see some of the action in order to appreciate the field.
This year’s National Engineering Week theme is “Celebrate Awesome.” What would you describe as the most “awesome” part of your job?
The most awesome part of my job is being able to take an idea that my coworkers and I came up with, and watch it turn into reality. Being able to solve a problem in a way that no one has before, and then having the opportunity to test those solutions and see the ones that survive slowly become real technologies is basically my job. It is awesome to be able to create a solution that didn’t exist before.