Aerospace & defense: these essential,
look-ahead technologies have jobs to offer
Companies need highly educated techies who are U.S. citizens and have or can get security clearances
The right skills and experience can lead to a variety of fascinating careers
By Monique Rizer
From radios to rockets and unmanned aerial vehicles, many aerospace and defense organizations are doing good business. Defense spending and exports should keep the field stable for at least the next few years, predicts a 2008 end-of-year report from the Aerospace Industries Association (aia-aerospace.org). Companies in the industry are positioned to bolster the U.S. economy overall, the report suggests.
Multitudes of specialized technical pros with advanced degrees in the science and engineering fields are needed to take the world into its air and space future. In most cases, these highly educated techies must be U.S. citizens, holding or able to obtain security clearances.
“To fill our candidate pool, we pair those requirements with a desire for individuals with diverse backgrounds and views,” states Laura DePasquale, employment manager at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA, Alexandria, VA).
The hiring landscape varies from one company to another. Some aerospace and defense companies look for experienced specialists while others are grooming the next generation to fill the pipeline as their current employees prepare to retire.
“A lot of people are exiting the workforce at the same time and we have fewer and fewer engineers coming out of school,” says Kristine Miller, VP of business operations at Aurora Flight Sciences (Manassas, VA). A major challenge, both for the industry and the nation, “is to inspire the next generation to get interested in careers in STEM,” Miller declares.
The right combination of skills and experience can lead to a variety of fascinating and valuable careers.
Harold Montoya: memorable
programs at Ball Aerospace
From working with other bright minds on NASA’s Deep Impact space mission
to making the final hardware connections for a departing space shuttle, Harold Montoya has taken part in some exciting programs in his twenty-five years at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp (Boulder, CO).
Montoya earned a 1980 BSME from the University of Colorado, Boulder, partially funded by a NACME scholarship. In college he interned as an analyst on a space shuttle at former aerospace and defense company Rockwell International. “That crystallized my desire to work in this industry,” he says. After graduating, Montoya spent four years as an analyst with Boeing (Chicago, IL) in Kent, WA. A 1984 offer from Ball brought him back to Colorado.
“It was a big culture shock,” he says of the move. “I was coming to a company that had similar projects but on a much different scale. Now instead of a team of 1,000 it was a team of 100.”
He started in thermal and structural analysis, working on everything from instruments to spacecraft. Each assignment improved his understanding of systems and the roles of the various departments.
He worked in systems engineering for several years, writing systems requirements and taking on management responsibilities. He moved up to launch vehicle manager, responsible for the interface between Ball’s hardware and the launch vehicle, and then to program manager: one of his favorite roles.
Today Montoya is director of operations for Ball’s national defense unit, with offices in Broomfield and Boulder, CO. “I’m managing resources for our business unit, making sure all programs have the staff and facilities they need,” he says.
After work he’s active in his church and community, often taking the opportunity to talk to young people about technical careers. He’s also helping to launch affinity groups at Ball.
Jim Stevens, Ball’s HR VP, notes that the company’s executive diversity council “promotes and supports an inclusive environment. Collaboration and diversity strengthen and leverage our company culture and contribute to our company success.”
Bill Tam: a long
career at Aerojet
Bill Tam is manager of materials technology at Aerojet (Sacramento, CA), a missile and space propulsion manufacturer that has had equipment on every manned space flight ever launched by the U.S. Tam has thirty-two years experience in hypersonics and liquid- and solid-fuel rocket development.
His current job, he says, involves “helping ideas come to fruition.” His team finds or develops materials for Aerojet designers working on rockets, missiles and space boosters for government and commercial programs.
Tam, who is Chinese, grew up in Hong Kong and Canada. He earned a bachelor of engineering in metallurgical engineering at McGill University (Montreal, Canada). He had expected to move into a career in Canadian industry, but when the opportunity arose he moved to the U.S. and joined Aerojet.
For more than twenty years Tam held a variety of technical positions, including materials engineer on the now decommissioned Air Force Peacekeeper missile program. Later he became a design engineer and eventually an integrated project team leader.
For the last ten years Tam has been a manager in the engineering department. Before his current materials technology position he was manager of solids mechanical design. “I’ve appreciated the diversity of my assignments,” he says.
There’s little room for error in space propulsion, Tam notes. “When we send a vehicle into space or launch a weapons system, we have lives at stake. The product needs to work every time,” he says. “It takes a critical thinker to do this kind of work.”
Hiring at Aerojet
Kenneth Gaal, manager of staffing at Aerojet, agrees that specialized experience is invaluable. “In engineering we’re almost always looking for people with rocket propulsion system or directly applicable experience,”
Gaal says. Between Orion, NASA’s next generation of space exploration vehicles, and commercial space-flight programs, Aerojet is staying busy.
This year the company anticipates bringing in fifty EEs, software engineers, systems engineers and thermal and structural designers.
Aerojet also looks for some recent grads to learn and grow with the company. It recruits from HBCUs, and attends job fairs hosted by NSBE, SHPE and SWE. A committee was recently formed to support the company’s diversity initiatives.
“We recognize the impact and importance of diversity and inclusion as key drivers of the creativity, innovation and invention necessary to our success as a propulsion technology powerhouse,” Gaal states.
Patrice McDermott: building
subs at Electric Boat
Patrice McDermott joined General Dynamics Electric Boat (Groton, CT) after graduating from MIT (Cambridge, MA) with her BSME in 2001. She spent three years in an engineering group designing aircraft carrier systems, then joined the company’s professional development program.
Several rotations have given McDermott a broad understanding of the ship construction business. Bob Hamilton, director of communications, notes that “After this program, when candidates put something on paper they know how it’s going to
work out on the shop floor.”
McDermott started with a manufacturing engineering group, working with the trades. She moved up to foreman at the pipe shop.
“It was like putting pieces of the puzzle together,” she says. “In the past more experienced engineers would tell me which fittings to use and I didn’t really understand why. When I went
to the pipe shop and saw the actual manufacturing, I got it.”
Next came eighteen months in business development. And today she’s a foreman at Electric Boat’s Quonset Point facility (North Kingstown, RI) where she supervises fifteen welders, fitters and other trades in structural fabrication.
“There’s a lot of problem-solving with people in this job, but it still ties back to engineering,” she says with a smile.
Electric Boat needs
a range of engineers
The company recently won a contract to double its production from one sub a year to two, reports Hamilton. Current plans are to bring in about 200 engineers this year: EEs, MEs, CEs and structural, aerospace, nuclear, computer, ocean and marine engineers, as well as naval architects.
“Our workforce of more than 10,000 represents a dynamic blend of people who come from versatile backgrounds and offer valuable experience, skill sets and perspectives,” says diversity officer Cheryl Stergio. “Our interdisciplinary teams foster a collaborative and comprehensive work environment.”
Dr Dianne Thorpe:
problem-solving at CNA
Dianne Thorpe, PhD is a project director at CNA (Alexandria, VA). She’s delighted with the interdisciplinary research teams and fascinating projects commissioned by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
Thorpe has a 1996 BS in chemistry from Howard University (Washington, DC); her 2001 PhD in analytical chemistry is from the Georgia Institute of Technology. She joined CNA as a research analyst early in 2002.
In 2004 she was given an intergovernmental assignment at the science and technology directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Washington, DC). As a program manager in the chemical countermeasures division, she led a team that worked with proposals and prototype systems to combat chemical threats.
“It was great to be able to use my chemistry degrees in that way,” she says.
Now Thorpe is back at CNA. Her recent projects have involved helping the U.S. Marine Corps implement a security task and carrying out a headquarters relocation. “As you can see these jobs are not related to chemistry,” she says. “But they are about solving problems. That’s what CNA is all about.”
All CNA employees do two-year field assignments. Thorpe could be assigned to a command as far away as Afghanistan or as near as Quantico, VA.
CNA seeks advanced degrees
and research experience
CNA brings in twenty to thirty new research analysts each year, says employment manager Laura DePasquale. Preferred are recent grads with PhDs in engineering, chemistry, physics, biology and more. Candidates must be U.S. citizens and able to obtain a security clearance.
CNA reps attend recruiting events put on by HBCUs as well as SHPE, NSBE and the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP). “CNA appreciates the varied experiences our professionals bring into the workplace,” states Alice Brown, diversity program coordinator. “We recruit, hire and retain a diverse staff that produces high-quality work for our clients.”
Dodi Walker’s career
takes flight at Aurora
Dodi Walker loves her job as a project engineer in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight ops at Aurora Flight Sciences (Manassas, VA). “This is an industry where I can combine my love of flying with the unique challenges and interesting projects that engineering provides,” she says.
Walker learned about Aurora while researching her master’s thesis on the early design and testing of a Mars UAV: in 2002 a Mars craft that Aurora helped design was one of four finalists chosen by NASA for a Mars Scout mission. Walker contacted Aurora’s president John Langford for information while she was working on the thesis.
The research turned into a job offer. “He said, ‘You’re doing interesting work, why don’t you send us your résumé,’” Walker remembers with pleasure. “They called me for an interview
and now I’m working here.”
Walker’s 2004 BSEE is from the Prescott, AZ campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona Beach, FL). Her 2008 MS in aviation systems is from the University of Tennessee Space Institute (Tullahoma, TN).
As a project engineer Walker works on logistics, planning and execution of UAV flight ops. UAVs require special permission to fly in national airspace, and Aurora has three aircraft with experimental flying certifications. “There are a lot of neat projects going on and I’m thrilled to be able to be a part of them,” Walker says.
means more jobs
Aurora is currently a 350-person company but expects to bring in another fifty techies this year. “The UAV industry is really growing,” reports Kristine Miller, VP of business ops at Aurora. “We’ve been doing more work with prime contractors and getting more involved in general aviation and manufacturing. There are a lot of opportunities coming.”
Aurora is looking for aerospace and structural design engineers, EEs and software engineers
to work on avionics. The company also needs manufacturing engineers and technicians for composite and metal fabrication.
“We’re particularly looking for people with at least ten years of experience in the structures area,” Miller says. “We’re hiring a lot of new grads, but we need engineers to work as mentors and lead some of the teams here.”
Diversity is valued at Aurora. “The more diversified the workforce the better ideas we get. It’s a very collaborative environment here,” Miller concludes.
Jennifer Thomas gives back
at Pratt & Whitney
Aerospace engineer Jennifer Thomas is on the last of her four rotations at
Pratt & Whitney (P&W, East Hartford, CT). She joined the company in 2006 after earning her BSAE at the University of Central Florida.
P&W recruited Thomas at a NSBE career fair. “I liked the idea of P&W’s engineering rotation program,” Thomas notes. “I would be able to see where I fit into the company culture and where my talents would be best used.” The program accepts only five engineers into each yearly class.
So far Thomas has worked in aerodynamics, operability and test engineering, and now she’s in turbine durability. She hasn’t decided where she’d like to settle, but durability, where engineers design the cooling configurations of turbine blades, is very interesting. “The blades come after the hottest part of the engine. Without cooling the blades would melt, so it’s a big responsibility to predict the heat transfer accurately,” she says.
Besides her technical work, Thomas is involved with the P&W African American forum and women’s forum. She remains active with NSBE and SWE, mentoring students and doing other outreach. “We want to let them know this career is open to anyone,” Thomas says.
Pratt & Whitney supports twelve employee networks that assist in diversity recruiting, notes Donna Markie, diversity and MBA recruiter.
The company recruits at events hosted by SWE, Women in Aviation International (www.wai.org), SHPE and more.
“Pratt & Whitney is committed to leading the way in the aerospace industry,” Markie says. “We feel that it’s critical to our success to build and maintain an inclusive work environment and diverse workforce that maximizes potential and drives innovation.”
Rose Karolenko directs
flight lines for AAI Corp
As director of engineering support for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) at
AAI Corp (Hunt Valley, MD), one of the Textron family of companies, Rose Karolenko is responsible for engineering and flight test operations for AAI’s unmanned aircraft and associated systems, and oversees an integration lab where prototypes are tested and modified. AAI has three flight test locations, in Virginia, Arizona and Alabama, so Karolenko is often on the move.
She holds a 1987 BA in business with an emphasis on IS from the College of Notre Dame (Baltimore, MD), but she studied EE and CS before deciding on a business degree, and worked on an MS at the Whiting School of Engineering of Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD) in the early 1990s.
Much of Karolenko’s technical expertise was developed through study and work at previous companies, including one of her own. From 1993 to 2005 she ran a network and systems engineering firm, serving Motorola (Schaumburg, IL) among other clients.
She was recruited by a friend, and joined AAI in April 2005.
Flying unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace is still uncharted territory. Part of Karolenko’s job is getting permission to fly from the customer, and working with the FAA to develop UAS policies.
UAS work is an exciting field, says Karolenko. “The industry has been around for more than twenty years but with the recent increased use of unmanned aircraft in the military it’s getting more publicity. People are finding additional uses in public safety and, eventually, commercial applications.”
AAI seeks sixty techies
AAI expects to add about sixty more technical positions to its current staff of 2,500. The new hires will range from software and systems engineers to EEs and MEs. “We tend to hire people who have worked in other aerospace and defense companies,” states Alex Bacas, employment manager at AAI. Folks from the military are often hired for project and program manager roles.
Bacas works with SWE, NSBE, HBCUs and online sources to find diverse candidates. “The Textron companies believe that building a diverse workforce and strengthening our inclusive culture will enable us to compete even more successfully in a
global market,” Bacas says.
BEYA-awardee David Tumblin
supports military projects at DRS
David Tumblin enjoys problem-solving at DRS Technologies (Parsippany, NJ). He’s a systems engineer in the Melbourne, FL office. “There’s no guidebook on how to solve certain issues,” he says. “You just kind of jump in and figure it out.”
That approach helped earn Tumblin a Black Engineer of the Year modern-day technology leader award last year. He was recognized for streamlining a rigorous government security approval process, allowing the company to install a GPS-compatible device on its rugged-tablet PCs. His work documenting best practices helped speed up the approval process for the next team.
“It takes one person to really know what needs to be done and explain it to the team,” he says. “I was just kind of thrown into the process.”
Tumblin is part of DRS Tactical Systems’ military rugged tablet (MRT) computer group. He manages requirements, configuration and systems allocation. One of his current programs is the MRT Stryker.
Tumblin has also worked on the U.S. Army’s mortar fire control computer, the Army’s intelligent munitions system and other defense programs. “I like the variety of it all,” he says.
Before DRS, Tumblin worked on defense systems programs at Northrop Grumman and interned with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
With full funding from the DRS tuition reimbursement program, Tumblin is scheduled to complete his MSIE at the University of Florida-Gainesville in May 2009. He holds a 2004 BA in physics from Xavier University of Louisiana and a 2002 BSME from the University of New Orleans.
the knowledge base
DRS hires EEs, MEs, CS and software engineers, program managers and more. “We certainly understand how diversity expands the knowledge base within our company and helps promote innovation,” says Janet Konopka, director of talent acquisition. “That’s really a growth engine for DRS Technologies.
“Our products and services continue to be needed by the military, DHS and non-DOD customers. This broad scope gives us a strong foundation for our current and future workforce.”
Dr Quentin Saulter
manages research at ONR
Quentin Saulter, PhD, directed-energy program manager at the Office of Naval Research (ONR, Arlington, VA), is a man of firsts. He was the first African American recipient of the Patricia Roberts Harris fellowship award and the first African American to graduate from Appalachian State University (Boone, NC) with an MS in applied physics.
Saulter has worked at many public and private institutions during his career. He spent six years at the Thomas Jefferson Lab National Accelerator Facility (Newport News, VA) where he worked on superconducting accelerator technology and supervised ops for nuclear physics programs. Then he was a test engineer at the Naval Air Systems Command (Patuxent River, MD). At the Naval Surface Warfare Center (Dahlgren, VA) in 1999 he was involved in high-power microwave and laser systems, and he continued to work with high-energy laser programs at various Navy organizations until joining ONR in 2003.
Now he directs critical investments for R&D and acquisition programs for the Navy’s directed energy weapon systems. “I am also working on developing an investment strategy for the Navy that could lead to the first U.S. shipboard free-electron laser,” he reports.
ONR needs experienced techies
“Technical positions at ONR are filled with the most experienced scientists and engineers,”
says Jill Blackwell, deputy director of civilian personnel programs. She recruits from many science and engineering disciplines, including MEs, EEs, materials engineers, mathematicians, physicists, oceanographers, chemists, metallurgists and more. NSBE, SWE and SHPE are among her sources.
Deputy business operations and talent manager Will Brown declares that “The bedrock of ONR’s reputation is recognizing everyone’s unique potential, underpinned by cultural, gender, age and ethnic diversity.
“Diversity in background, point of view and approach to problem resolution is critical to developing a broad solution horizon in science and technology.”
Frank Ng: meaningful
work at Raytheon
Frank Ng is a systems engineer II at Raytheon (Waltham, MA). He’s glad he joined a strong defense company. “I feel defense products are really meaningful,” he says.
Ng graduated from Tufts University (Medford, MA) in 2006 with a BSCE. In college he interned at Tyco Electronics (Berwyn, PA), working on a VoIP radio system, and at BlackRock (New York, NY), a global financial services firm, where he worked on internal software apps and the company’s website. He joined Raytheon’s Marlborough, MA site in 2006 as a systems engineer I.
Because projects are large and complex, new engineers like Ng usually begin as systems testers. So far he’s worked primarily on FAA programs. “I took the requirements the more senior engineers created and tested the system against them,” he explains. “It really helped me get to know the systems a lot better.”
Now he’s working with Autotrac III, an air traffic control program. He recently spent three months in India testing it. “I gained a lot of experience and learned a lot about what the customer wants,” he says. “It’s one step closer to being able to design my own system.”
Ng is also involved in diversity initiatives at Raytheon. Before leaving for India he was marketing lead for the Raytheon Asian Pacific Association. “Whether it’s age or ethnicity, there’s a lot of diversity at Raytheon,” he notes.
Kelly Kiernan: military
moves at SRA International
Kelly Kiernan is a junior Java developer at SRA International (Fairfax, VA).
It’s her first job after completing her BSCE at the College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, VA) last year.
She met SRA at a campus recruiting fair. Now she’s working on a Department of Defense system that plans relocations for military and civilian personnel. Kiernan is the daughter of a career marine, and remembers how tough the moving process was when it was all paper-based.
“You used to spend hours waiting in an office, then find you didn’t do enough paperwork. It could take up to a week. Now you can just do it on the Internet in a day,” she explains.
The project was near completion when she came on board, so she’s spending a lot of her time working out the bugs. She’s scheduled to move on to another military computer system designed to schedule time on firing ranges.
Kiernan enjoys knowing her work is making a difference for the troops. “I like the problem-solving capabilities, and it’s helping service men and women make their lives simpler,” she says. “Speaking from experience, they live in a complicated world!”
SRA expects to hire nearly 400 experienced techies this year, along with about fifty recent grads like Kiernan. The company is hiring in areas like enterprise resource planning, tech systems analysis and programming and PeopleSoft apps. It’s also looking for software developers, network engineers with large migration-active directory experience and systems engineers.
With ten consecutive years on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, SRA plans to remain a competitive and diverse employer.
“SRA International has long-held beliefs about the importance of inclusion to the creation of
a strong culture,” states Mary Good, HR SVP. “We intend to protect our spirit of inclusion, to ensure that the best people are working together to create the best outcomes for our customers, clients, contractors, charitable partners and employees.”
Tony Navarro: engineering
manager at General Dynamics
At General Dynamics C4 Systems (Scottsdale, AZ), Tony Navarro is engineering section manager. He has a 1984 BSEE with a communications emphasis from New Mexico State University and a 2002 MBA from Arizona State University’s Tempe, AZ campus.
General Dynamics was his first employer. He began in communications design, where he earned two patents. “We did a lot of advanced communications for restricted clients,” he says.
In 1992 he joined Orbital Sciences (Dulles, VA) as a project leader working on rockets in the company’s Chandler, AZ location. But he missed communications work, and returned to General Dynamics in 1994. He soon moved up to project leader for design teams. “I realized
I needed to concentrate on design or management, and I chose management,” he says. His teams got larger and larger, and now he manages some 250 people in systems engineering and integration services.
His current team is working on the next generation of the Department of Defense’s satellite communications for the Navy. “We’re doing a lot of systems engineering,” he explains. “We’re building the ground system and software that goes on the handsets.”
Navarro likes management. With his long history at General Dynamics, he can help his team to quickly find the right resources within the company.
He enjoys knowing the impact the work has on service members. Once he met an Afghanistan war veteran and told him he works on radio communications for the military. “The soldier said, ‘You know that’s the coolest thing. I got to call my mom on Christmas from the middle of the battlefield.’
“It was great to know that,” Navarro declares.
Navarro, whose family is from New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico, does some recruiting at career fairs put on by SHPE and at Arizona State. He’s also active in his church and local community, and talks to young people about technical careers “as often as possible.”
“General Dynamics is looking for a range of experience, from interns and entry-level engineers all the way to senior-level professionals,” says Rich Skelnik, director of talent acquisition and community relations. “We have a wide variety of openings including software, hardware, RF and systems engineers.”
Aerospace engineer Peggy Davidson
at the Naval Research Lab
Peggy Davidson is a senior aerospace engineer developing unmanned vehicle technologies at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL, Washington, DC). She has a 1986 BSAE from Texas A&M University and a 1992 MSAE from the University of Maryland.
Davidson’s entire career has been at NRL. She began as a student intern in
the vehicle research section of the tactical electronic warfare division.
Because a hiring freeze was on, she began as a contractor at NRL after graduation. A year later she became a fulltime government junior research engineer.
Davidson has held positions like director of flight research and principal investigator for a three-year advanced technology demonstration. In 1997 she did a rotation as an action
officer, supporting the chief of naval operations (OPNAV) expeditionary warfare division
at the Pentagon. “At the time, OPNAV had responsibility for the Navy’s unmanned air vehicle programs,” Davidson explains.
In 2000 she took a year off with her first child. She returned to NRL part-time, back in vehicle research where she is today.
“My responsibilities include both program management and technology liaison,” she says. “I also participate on committees to advance technology and foster cooperation to achieve the best possible technical solutions to critical military needs.”
Davidson enjoys NRL’s mission to support the fleet. “I work side by side with amazingly talented scientists, engineers and technicians whose motivation is advancing science and inventing technology,” she says. “There’s never a dull moment!”
NRL seeks specialized
NRL hiring is determined by sponsor funding. Lori Hill, NRL’s deputy EEO officer, says the lab expects to hire seventy-nine scientists and engineers this year. There will be openings for research physicists, EEs, AEs, research chemists, astrophysicists, physical scientists, computer scientists and oceanographers.
Most new hires will have either BS degrees with several years of experience in their fields, or MS and PhD degrees. Students can apply to NRL student experience programs.
“We believe a diverse workforce is imperative to fulfilling our mission, and ensuring that the laboratory remains as vital and innovative today as ever,” Hill affirms.
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES & AGENCIES IN AEROSPACE & DEFENSE
Check websites for current openings.
|Company and location
(Hunt Valley, MD)
|Unmanned aircraft systems
|Defense propulsion systems
|Aurora Flight Sciences
|Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp
|The Boeing Co
|Commercial jetliners and military aircraft
|Booz Allen Hamilton
|Strategy and technology consulting
|Center for Naval Analyses
|Analysis and solutions
|Defense electronic systems
(Falls Church, VA)
|Engineering and technology; defense and aerospace services
|General Dynamics C4 Systems
|Secure communication and information
systems and technology integration
|General Dynamics Electric Boat
|Submarine design and construction
|Naval Research Laboratory
|Research and development
|Global security, IT and aerospace
|Meggitt Defense Systems Inc
|Military scoring systems and services,
ammunition handling systems, environmental control systems, airborne pods and
|Office of Naval Research
|Science and technology research
|Pratt & Whitney
(East Hartford, CT)
|Aircraft engines, industrial gas turbines, space propulsion systems
|Defense and commercial systems, IT,
|Science Applications International Corp
(SAIC, San Diego, CA)
|Scientific, engineering and technology
|Technology services and solutions
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