Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology
Sears Holdings Corporation



December 2011/January 2012

Diversity/Careers December 2011/January 2012 Issue

Women of color
Pharma & biotech
Systems engineers
LGBT tech pros
Grace Hopper in OR

Asian American BEs
News & Views
Regional roundup
Supplier diversity

Diversity in action
News & Views

DRS Technologies

Changing technologies


Systems engineers see the big picture in defense, space & more

"Systems engineering is a discipline for managing complex engineering projects." – Julie Schumacher, Missile Defense Agency

"I like to call it Systems with a big 'S' because it really means all subsystems coming together." – Edwina Paisley, Lockheed Martin Space Systems

In 2009 "systems engineer" topped CNN-Money's annual list of the best jobs in America. "Systems engineers are the 'big think' managers on large, complex projects, from major transportation networks to military defense programs," says CNN-Money. "They figure out the technical specifications required and coordinate the efforts of lower-level engineers working on specific aspects of the project."

Donna Rhodes is director and principal research scientist for the systems engineering advancement research initiative at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA). In the past, she says, "Systems engineers were expected to start in a specialty area and then move into systems partway up the career chain.

"But this is changing," she notes. "There's a real desire today for systems engineers to get on the systems career path earlier, and have a broader educational background."

Many systems today, Rhodes says, are "systems of systems," composed of individual systems that may be independently owned and operated. These complex systems require that engineers understand more about social, political and economic factors.

Companies are looking for people with these broader skills, who may have a second degree in policy science, economics or psychology. "People who stay with their education a little longer may find themselves more attractive candidates in the job market," Rhodes observes.

Vision 2020 spells it out
Rhodes is also a Fellow and past president of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE, www.incose.com), a not-for-profit organization that promotes international collaboration in systems engineering practice, education and research. She points to a 2007 INCOSE study, Systems Engineering Vision 2020, which explains that "The future of systems engineering can be said to be 'model-based.' These environments will support a seamless flow of product information across all phases of the system lifecycle, including design, engineering, implementation, test and evaluation, and operational support.

"Model-based engineering is at the heart of what's going on today," says Rhodes. "Instead of writing yards of specifications, which is very labor-intensive to do, the model-based environment lets you test out your system as you go. So there's a lot of demand for individuals who have modeling and simulation skills."

Seventy-plus colleges offer the subject
INCOSE reports there are currently more than seventy colleges and universities in the U.S. that offer a mix of BS, MS, PhD level and certificate programs in systems engineering and systems engineering management. In fact, INCOSE works with the Council of Engineering Systems Universities (CESUN, www.cesun.mit.edu), which was established in 2004 by universities offering educational and research programs in engineering systems.

"All this brings more formalism and science to how things are done," Rhodes concludes. "This is a real opportunity that up-and-coming professionals can leverage in their careers."

Julie Schumacher: a deputy director at the Missile Defense Agency
Julie Schumacher is deputy director for test for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), working in its Huntsville, AL location. MDA is a research, development and acquisition agency within the Department of Defense. The MDA test organization is responsible for planning, programming, budgeting, management and execution of the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) test and assessment program, including flight testing and large-scale simulation events called ground tests.

"The BMDS is really a system of systems," Schumacher says. "We have many different systems that have to work together. Any kind of change in one system causes a ripple effect across all the other systems at the agency."

Her role in testing is multifaceted. "We take requirements from the engineering community and design and execute flight tests and ground tests to capture as much data as we can to validate individual system and overall BMDS performance.

"We also establish test policy for all MDA programs, and manage a government and contractor test workforce of about 800," she says.

Schumacher is married with two children. She grew up on a dairy farm in the small town of Ardmore, north of Huntsville, AL. In school she was good at math and science and also involved with the band and music. "I've always heard that there's a strong relationship between math and music," she notes.

She went to the University of Alabama on a scholarship in music education and earned a BS in secondary education in 1990. But, "After I graduated and taught music for a year, I couldn't see myself doing it for thirty more. So I decided to make a change before I got too far down that path."

She went back to the University of Alabama in Huntsville, took a long list of required undergraduate engineering courses, and earned an MS in industrial and systems engineering in 1994.

While in school she was a co-op at Mevatec Corp (now part of BAE Systems, Rockland, MD), a provider of engineering support services to the Department of Defense and other agencies and commercial businesses.

Most of Schumacher's career has been with the defense industry except for a few years at Square D Co (now part of Schneider Electric, Palatine, IL) where she managed seven high-volume manufacturing cells in a startup plant. "I enjoyed the work a lot, but in 1994 I had the opportunity to come back to Mevatec as a systems engineer. I was hired to run models and simulations and analyze weapon system performance. It was real backroom stuff, but I learned a lot about big-picture system analysis." She also supported the Army's ground-based interceptor and Arrow projects, and its battle lab.

Schumacher's desire to see even more of the big picture took her to the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command in 1998. It was the same program she was working on at Mevatec, but "Working on the government side gave me more opportunities in systems engineering and project management."

In her initial assignment she was asked to make Israeli missile defense systems interoperable with U.S. missile defense systems. It took several years to develop the capability and then test it in laboratories and in the field. "U.S. and Israeli systems have to work together in one architecture and share digital data on threats coming into Israel," she explains. She later became program manager for the portfolio of cooperative missile defense programs that the U.S. and Israel share.

Today, along with the MDA director for test, Schumacher has engineers and analysts, civilian and military, performing test planning and execution, managing test resources, launching targets for flight tests and handling policy, budget and contracts.

It's very different from her days as the drum major leading the UA Million Dollar Band. "There's nothing like marching out to the middle of the field at halftime with a hundred thousand fans screaming and cheering," she reflects. "What I do now is definitely different, but seeing the fire and smoke from a flight test and knowing I'm helping protect the U.S. and our soldiers is pretty exciting too!"

Northrop Grumman's Dr Amy Lo works with astronomy and NASA
Amy Lo, PhD looks for life in other parts of the universe. Lo is a systems engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp (El Segundo, CA), working on the company's New Worlds Observer concept that uses a starshade to block the light from nearby stars and look for earthlike planets that circle other stars.

"Here in the Space Systems division we essentially build satellites," she says. "I focus mostly on our civilian business, so agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are my prime customers.

"In the early stages of projects there's a desire to answer a scientific question, perhaps address a weather phenomenon; so we wrap a mission around it. Now we're working on the New Worlds Observer mission, and particularly the starshade," Lo explains. "We want to look for life elsewhere in the universe."

Lo's job was coming up with a way to do the observation of sources that are very far away and obscured by many other sources of light. She and her team devised the idea of a starshade placed in front of the telescope to block out starlight but allow planet light to shine into the telescope. Working on that has been part of her job for the past six years, she says.

The starshade, shaped like a daisy and about fifteen stories high, is intended to observe planets around stars located within a hundred light years of earth. But the ultimate launch of the project is still several years away. "What we're doing now is still technology development and mission design."

Lo spends a lot of her day in meetings reviewing internal R&D activities. Besides her work with the starshade, she is also the lead for mission design. "I meet with my team every day to monitor its progress." She coordinates a group of space vehicle systems engineers, scientists and in-house astrophysicists, mission engineers and orbitologists.

Lo was born in Taiwan and grew up there, in the U.S., and at school in Vancouver, Canada. She went to Brown University (Providence, RI) for a 1997 BS in physics with a focus in astrophysics. She later went to UCLA (Los Angeles, CA) for a 2002 MS in astrophysics and a 2005 PhD in astrophysics with a focus on cosmology.

"This wasn't the traditional route to a systems engineering career," she admits. "But my PhD was really heavy in numerical simulations and analysis and I think that was probably the big thing that got Northrop Grumman to hire me."

Lo has been at Northrop Grumman for almost seven years. "I've found a really good niche in this group," she says. "I've learned a lot about how to put a mission together. I've been able to use both my numerical analysis and scientific capabilities."

Lo is a member of the Northrop Grumman Asian American Action Group. Outside the company she is vice-chair for the space system technical committee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a member of the American Astronomical Society and the International Society of Optical Engineers. This year she received the Asian-American Engineer of the Year Award of the Chinese Institute of Engineering/USA for her work and dedication to the engineering field.

Looking ahead, Lo sees more work on the starshade. "I'm very lucky to have a position that I really love. I've always had interesting things to work on and good people around me. I'm pretty happy," she says.

Off the job, Lo and her husband race a junker car with friends. "We have a good team and do about four or five races a year. My husband drives an old 1980s BMW and I'm the radio chief and boss my friends around," she says with a laugh.

Edwina Paisley: systems engineering test lead for Lockheed Martin Space Systems
"I've always had a fundamental desire to do things with my hands," says Edwina Paisley. Legos, Matchbox cars, Tonka trucks and Play Doh were her favorite toys.

Today Paisley is systems engineering test lead for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-series (GOES-R) program at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co (Littleton, CO).

Although she's been at the company for just a few years, Paisley has already worked on several high-profile projects. "I have a pretty heavy background in mechanical test and integration areas," she explains.

For the GOES-R program she's responsible for developing and conducting satellite-level mechanical tests like functional checkouts and environmental verifications. The work requires know-ledge of spacecraft subsystems coupled with the design and integration lifecycle of the spacecraft. Data from the GOES system provides accurate real-time weather forecasting and early warning products to the public and private sectors, improving forecasting quality and timeliness, she explains.

"Knowing the design and how the satellite is being developed, I identify the tests we need to do at the integration level," she says, "from the smallest component level to the subsystem level and finally the system level, the spacecraft itself.

"It's like building a car. The Michelin guys put the tires through their paces and the steering-wheel guys wiggle it around, but then a racecar driver has to get in and do a lap, knowing what all the individual pieces are capable of and what they have done.

"I'm one driver among a lot of drivers," she notes with a smile. "At the spacecraft level you're testing to make sure the vehicle can survive and operate in all the environments it will experience in launch and on orbit throughout a nine- or ten-year life.

"When you build a car and it has a problem it's on the ground and you can fix it. But when you launch a satellite you only have the one shot."

Before joining GOES-R, Paisley was deputy space-vehicle-certified principal engineer for the space-based infrared systems (SBIRS) Geo-1 and Geo-2, a series of geosynchronous next-gen missile warning satellites. SBIRS is designed to provide global surveillance capabilities in missile warning, missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness.

Paisley was also a key member of the team that conducted a hover flight test of an advanced missile defense system. And she was recently on special assignment to NASA's Juno program to handle test scenarios on that spacecraft. Juno, launched in August 2011, should arrive at the planet Jupiter in July 2016.

A typical day for Paisley means a lot of talking with experts in various fields. "We have to coordinate with subsystem experts," Paisley says. "My day is spent running down questions about integration and test issues. It's very much a 'people' kind of job, but it's technical because you have to know the experts' language to frame the issues in their context. Ten minutes face-to-face is worth more than two weeks on the telephone!"

Paisley was born in New York State but lived in Europe and Asia while her father was working for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. She graduated from the University of Nevada with a BS in computer science in 2003 and joined Lockheed Martin right after that.

"However, I soon realized that CS wasn't quite my style so I looked for engineering with a more mechanical flavor," she says. "I told my mentors that I really like putting things together and putting systems through their paces. That's what got me the opportunities in propulsion and I went on to systems." She added an MS in software engineering and development management from Carnegie-Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) in 2008.

At Lockheed Martin Paisley is part of the Women's Intrinsic Network (WIN) group. She's excited about the diverse culture the company embraces. "We do really hard programs and create really cool hardware. It's a very inclusive environment and you're encouraged to go beyond what you thought you could accomplish."

Paisley sees herself in a long-term systems role. "There is no such thing as an 'expert' systems engineer," she says. "There's always something more to learn and people who are better at things than you are. It's up to you to learn as much as you can from them."

Safwan Whitaker works at Textron Systems' AAI Test & Training
"In middle school, one of my math teachers told me that if I could do math, I should be able to do engineering. That pretty much got me started," says Safwan Whitaker.

Whitaker is a systems engineer with AAI Test & Training, an operating unit of Textron Systems (Hunt Valley, MD). "Generally I work on antenna couplers, mainly for the Air Force F15 aircraft," he explains. "There are antennas all over the aircraft and couplers test the RF signals. Frequencies that are too high or too low can affect data transmission, and communication is key, particularly in the defense world."

Whitaker works on the Joint Service Electronic Combat Systems Tester (JSECST) product team of some fifteen engineers and techs. "They showed me that what we do has real-world importance and lives depend on it."

Whitaker is from Baltimore, MD and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute was his high school. "They helped me decide what area of engineering to focus on. I really liked the electrical aspect; it seemed to have many real-world applications."

So Whitaker went on to Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD) for his 2006 BS in EE and computer engineering. He was the first man in his family to graduate from college.

In school he interned as a research assistant at Morgan State's KIMCOE (Knowledge Integrated Management for the Center of Excellence) incubator, concentrating on wireless communication and mobile ad-hoc network situations. "We worked closely with the Army, providing communications service to soldiers so they could see what was ahead of them, transmitting in both audio and visual. Being college students with a limited budget it really tested our innovation skills," he says.

The experience opened Whitaker's eyes to the defense world, and on graduation he joined Honeywell (Lexington Park, MD) as an EE. "They are near a naval base and that really drew my attention," he says. "Honeywell had a contract with the Navy to work on the high-speed air-to-surface Hawklink data transmission system for use by ship-based helicopters. I provided engineering services for the system."

Whitaker left Honeywell for Textron in 2010. Now a father, he wanted to go back to his hometown of Baltimore to raise his family. "Honeywell was a great job," he explains, "but the distance was too far to commute so I started to look for opportunities closer to home. The work AAI was doing with antenna couplers and unmanned equipment was very interesting to me and immediately got my attention.

"Coming out of college the EE title was very broad," Whitaker reflects. "But you have to take things to a different level when you need to test equipment that will be used in the real world. Now, not only can I identify a problem but I have the knowledge to repair it myself, find out how it can be repaired or decide that it's a lost cause and can't be repaired at all.

"I really like the program-management aspect of my job, having full control over a contract and being able to designate assignments," Whitaker says. "I like running my own program and understanding all work needed to complete the project with a team of people where tons of responsibility is required."

Kimberly Austin is a senior systems engineer at Aerojet
"I was the baby in a family of seven but I was the first to go to college and graduate," says Kimberly Austin. "It put added pressure on me, but I rose to the occasion and even motivated my sisters to go back to school and get their degrees."

Today Austin is a senior project engineer at Aerojet (Sacramento, CA). Most of her time is spent working with customers and team members to develop hardware and software requirements for rocket propulsion systems. For most of her career at Aerojet she's supported the Standard Missile 3 program. "Understanding customer needs and translating them into requirements are key elements of systems engineering, and that's what I do," she says.

True to the multifaceted responsibilities of a systems engineer, Austin also coordinates the selection of optimized concept baselines through cost/benefit analysis. She identifies project risks and reports on the results of mitigation plans. Her oral and written presentations are critical to her program's success.

As a kid in Garyville, LA, Austin taught herself to use a computer that belonged to one of her older siblings. "That was what triggered my interest in engineering," she says. "The other kids were a lot older so I spent a lot of time playing by myself. My brother sent me a computer once and I took it apart and put it back together. After that I said, 'That's what I'm going to go to school for!'"

Austin went to Southern University (Baton Rouge, LA) where she got her BSCS in 2000. She had a job waiting for her at Web hosting provider Data Return (Irving, TX), a company she met through a career fair.

In 2001 Austin made the move to California to join Lockheed Martin, another company she had interviewed with in college, as a software engineer. "It was really cool because I was able to rotate through different parts of the company. Once I got to see what systems engineers do, I really liked it," she says. "I wanted to meet customers, interface with different groups, understand their disciplines and bring everything together."

After four years Austin joined Aerojet. Now married and a new mother, she wanted to be closer to her family. "I had never really worked with other disciplines so closely, and I was taken to this new realm of learning. It's been great ever since. I love the technical side of the business and I love what I'm doing now, systems engineering," she says.

Eventually Austin wants to get an advanced degree and go into teaching. "I want to go into neighborhoods where there isn't a lot of engineering being taught to kids and show them there are other career paths out there they can explore.

"I didn't grow up in the best of areas but I made the most of what I had and I'd like to give some of that back."

EE Prem Kannan directs capture solutions at CSC
When Prem Kannan was growing up in Bangalore, India, several of his uncles were MEs working on the infrastructure of the Indian railroads. "I knew by the time I was in fifth grade that I wanted to go into engineering," he says. "But it was around tenth or eleventh grade before I decided on computer and electronics engineering."

He received his BSEE from Bangalore University (Bangalore, India) in 1980. He completed an MSEE at Villanova University (Villanova, PA) in 1981 and an MBA in marketing and finance at Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA) in 1987.

"I wanted to get my MS to get a foothold in engineering and then return to India, but around that time the computer industry was exploding. I went to Villanova on a scholarship and had the opportunity to work with a professor visiting from London who had five Apple IIc computers," Kannan says with a smile. "My eyes just lit up and I started programming with them for my thesis."

Today Kannan is a director in capture solutions at IT solutions provider CSC (Falls Church, VA). He joined the company as a solutions architect in the North American public sector. "I am in a CTO position but not in the traditional sense," he says.

In fact, "I am actually a utility player here. I help out a lot of programs. For example, we are fielding a Web-based maintenance management system for the Army so about 400 engineering technicians around the world can log in to one system.

"I look outside CSC at bigger programs. My customer base is mostly the federal government, primarily the defense department and the intelligence community."

Kannan has been at CSC since 2007 after spending time at Northrop Grumman (McLean, VA), Armillaire Technologies (Bethesda, MD) and Science Applications International Corp (SAIC, McLean, VA). His first job was as a communications engineer at Burroughs Corp (Devon, PA), but he realized he was more of a systems than a communications engineer.

"I believe systems engineering is experience-driven," he says. "There are lots of things you need to know. It was best for me to focus on a particular aspect of engineering and then expand the scope."

Within CSC Kannan is a member of a mentoring program, and he's a project management professional with the Project Management Institute and an expert at the IT Infrastructure Library, a framework of good practices for managing an IT infrastructure.

"There are two tracks an engineer can take," he says. "One is a technical track and the other a technical management track, which is what I selected. It's a much easier transition to technical management than people believe."

Tara Solorzano is a lead systems engineer at ITT
As a lead systems engineer for the geospatial systems position navigation and timing business unit (Bloomfield, NJ) of ITT, Tara Solorzano works across integrated product teams for the OCX global positioning system (GPS) advanced control segment. "We are a major subcontractor to Raytheon," Solorzano explains. Her job is to work with customers and make sure technical quality is assessed and problems are resolved promptly. She also keeps both ITT and customer leaders informed.

"I make sure the teams are following the proper processes and assess the technical quality of what we are producing," she explains. "We have strict processes for our products. Did we follow the right standards? Do they have the correct content?"

Solorzano has ten years of systems engineering experience in all three segments of GPS: space, ground and user. ITT's OCX program has some twenty systems engineers on six product teams.

"This is the next-generation ground control station for the GPS constellation of satellites," she says. "It's going to be adding new features like increased performance accuracy and support for additional signals."

There's a lot more to GPS than the receiver unit in a car or on a smartphone. For example, the technology is also used in electronic devices that produce time stamps on credit card and ATM receipts. "ITT is involved in all segments of GPS," Solorzano explains. "First, there's the space segment: the satellites sending signals to your car system. We also produce the receivers used at ground control stations around the world."

Solorzano started at ITT in 2001 while she was still in college. She was a summer intern and then a co-op student. She came on full time after she got her BS in computer engineering from the Albert Dorman Honors College of the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 2003. In 2006 she completed an MSEE at Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ). On her father's side of the family, Solorzano is a first-generation college grad. Her father was born and raised in Costa Rica and came to the U.S. as a young man.

"In school I always gravitated toward math and science," Solorzano notes. "By the time I was a junior in high school I knew I wanted to go to an engineering school."

Her path to systems engineering is a contemporary one. "Historically, systems engineers started out in another engineering discipline, got lots of experience in diverse areas of engineering and evolved into systems engineers. But when I joined ITT it was just starting to hire students and train them to be systems engineers. I had the opportunity to work with a lot of experienced people who essentially trained me. New courses were being developed at Stevens and other universities and I began taking those courses as well to learn about the tools that help us document our designs.

"Eight years ago I was working on one of the space programs here and taking some classes at the same time. I was learning new methodologies and applying them in real time, and it really made systems engineering click for me."

A lot of her career, she says, "has been a mix of leveraging the experience of the people I work with and getting smart on the new methodologies. I work with many different disciplines as well as business and program management."

ITT, she thinks, "provides wonderful career flexibility. I'm lucky I've had diverse assignments and new challenges, and I'm looking forward to continuing that. I don't have a specific future role in mind but I'd like to continue on this course, increasing my responsibilities. It's been a lot of fun!"

Eric Holmes is an associate division chief at NASA Goddard SFC
Eric Holmes is very proud of NASA and his job there. "NASA's budget is less than one percent of the federal budget but the results are life-changing," he says with pride.

Holmes is ending his first year as associate division chief of the mission engineering and systems analysis (MESA) division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, MD). Goddard develops and operates unmanned scientific spacecraft, designing missions to operate and control the spacecraft and, ultimately, enabling the collection of data by the science community.

MESA provides expertise in a host of areas including mission systems engineering, navigation, propulsion attitude control and space systems protection technologies through the entire lifecycle of NASA's earth science, space science and exploration missions.

"As division leadership, we function at a middle-management level," he explains. "We communicate up and communicate down to make sure our people have the resources to do their jobs. We make sure our discipline branches can meet their obligations to flight projects and external customers. I spend a lot of time meeting with branch leadership and directorate personnel, working out the day-to-day business of operating the division."

Holmes has seven branches reporting to him, including one at the Wallops Flight Facility, NASA's principal location for management and implementation of suborbital research programs. He has worked on other Goddard projects including Landsat 7, Earth Observer-1 and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

After two years as a contractor at Goddard, Holmes began his career at NASA in 1999 as a guidance, navigation and control (GNC) systems engineer. "GNC has been a common career path for people moving into mission systems engineering," he explains.

Holmes grew up in Westbury, Long Island, NY. His father was a commercial artist and Air Force veteran, and his mother was a microbiologist. "I've always been interested in aircraft and flight vehicles. Science was always part of my life," he remembers.

He won a scholarship sponsored by Grumman Aerospace Corp, working in its Aircraft Systems division during the summer while he worked on his 1986 BSME at Princeton University (Princeton, NJ). "My intent was always to work in the aerospace industry," he says.

After graduation Holmes joined Grumman's stability control and flying qualities group, working on programs including the F14 Tomcat and the X-29 forward-swept wing experimental aircraft. "Grumman was a big employer on Long Island with about 30,000 people," he says. "It was where the lunar module was developed, so the Apollo program was always front and center when I was growing up. In fact, some people credit Grumman with pioneering the concept of an organized systems engineering approach to developing complex aerospace systems."

In 1988 Grumman won the Space Station systems engineering integration contract. "This is where I got my introduction to spacecraft attitude control and systems engineering. I worked on the space station for almost six years," Holmes says.

Throughout his career Holmes has been involved with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). "I'm a big proponent of NSBE," he says. He became aware of the group during his freshman year at Princeton because it addressed issues that African American students faced at engineering schools in predominantly white institutions.

What motivates him now? "Helping to facilitate the continued work that NASA does. I feel very strongly about our work and its importance to society as a whole. We add to the body of knowledge and information that's critical to advancing any society.

"But I never want to get too far away from technical issues because that's where my passion is," he adds. "I like working with younger engineers, helping them get their careers moving in the right direction and motivating them. I like to see people achieve, whatever their passion is!"

Teresa Cowles: twenty-eight years in her first job at Hamilton Sundstrand
"If you like what you're doing and it's really interesting, why move?" says Teresa Cowles, manager of requirements engineering at Hamilton Sundstrand Air Management Systems (AMS, Windsor Locks, CT).

Cowles has been at Hamilton Sundstrand for twenty-eight years, her first job out of college. "I've spent my entire career in the same department in the same company," she says. "I created my position here."

AMS makes air conditioning systems for all types of aircraft: rotorcraft, large transport or military. "But we actually do more than that now," Cowles says. "We worked on Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, creating liquid cooling systems to cool power electronics as well as the galley and fire-detection systems." Before the 787, Cowles was program lead on the A380 double-decker Airbus and the technical proposal manager for a contract with Sikorsky for the CH53K secondary power system, which Hamilton Sunstrand won.

Most of Cowles' day is spent answering questions: What does this requirement mean? How do I apply this? "I have the historical background on a lot of requirements and also know who can provide more details on each one."

As a systems engineer, she says, "I have depth of experience across the gamut of requirements we see. Whether it's materials, electrical, performance or functionality, I've been around a long time and I know what the requirements are and what they mean." Cowles has ten people reporting to her directly.

Her father was an engineer at Hamilton Sundstrand's space systems department for thirty-three years. "When I got out of high school my father told me I should go to engineering school and I agreed." She got her BSME in 1983 at the University of Connecticut

"Engineering is interesting," Cowles says. "It's the application of science rather than just being a scientist. I knew about Hamilton Sundstrand and its product lines from my father and always thought what they did was very interesting. I started as a project engineer, just the second woman in a department of fifty people. I was well mentored, but most people just treated me like one of the guys."

Cowles has always done systems-level work. "I was also a test engineer so we did all the testing, wrote the test procedures and specs and made sure that the product did what it was supposed to do. That was the beginning of my career."

Eventually she moved on to "more of a leadership role," communicating customer requirements, answering questions and working with her team to get the information back to the customer.

Cowles is still honing her systems engineering leadership skills. "As a systems engineer I've learned about a lot of things," she reflects. "I really enjoy how the technology keeps me moving and the amount of knowledge you can amass and apply as you move forward."


Check websites for current listings.

Company and location Business area
AAI Test & Training (Hunt Valley, MD)
High-fidelity test and training solutions for aerospace and defense
Advanced Technology Services (Peoria, IL)
Production equipment maintenance and repair
Aerojet (Sacramento, CA)
Missile and space propulsion; defense and armaments
The Aerospace Corporation (El Segundo, CA)
Provides objective technical analyses for critical national security space programs
CSC (Falls Church, VA)
Technology-enabled business solutions and services
Hamilton Sundstrand (Windsor Locks, CT)
Designs, manufactures and supports aerospace and industrial products for worldwide markets
ITT Defense & Information Solutions
(McLean, VA) www.defense.itt.com
Technologies and services for military, government and commercial customers
Lockheed Martin Corporation (Bethesda, MD)
Research and development of advanced technology systems, products and services
Missile Defense Agency (Fort Belvoir, VA)
Research, development and acquisition for the U.S. Department of Defense
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
(Greenbelt, MD) www.nasa.gov/goddard
NASA research and programs
Northrop Grumman Corp (El Segundo, CA) www.northropgrumman.com Systems, products and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems and technical services
Space Systems/Loral (Palo Alto, CA)
Commercial satellites

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