Celebrating Engineers at Aerospace

Corporate Staff
posted February 18, 2014

At its heart, The Aerospace Corporation is an engineering company. We do the job of engineers – that is, we use science and math in creative ways to solve practical problems, all the while working under constraints that usually include time and budget.

Being able to do good work under constraints is a critical part of engineering, and some might say, the essence of engineering. The 19th-century American civil engineer Arthur Mellen Wellington famously defined engineering as “the art of doing well with one dollar what any bungler can do with two, after a fashion.”

The profession of engineering is being honored nationwide this week (Feb. 16-22) during National Engineers Week. The celebration of National Engineers Week was started in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers, which chose the week in closest proximity to President George Washington’s birthday, based on the assertion that Washington was the nation’s first engineer due to his surveying work. National Engineers Week’s purpose is to raise public awareness of engineers’ contributions to the quality of life, promote the desirability of engineering careers, and emphasize the importance of literacy in math, science, and technology. It is observed by more than 70 engineering, education, and cultural societies, as well as more than 50 corporations and government agencies.

To mark National Engineers Week at The Aerospace Corporation, we are profiling four of our engineers. They are a diverse group, with different backgrounds, but are representative of the engineering talent at Aerospace. One holds the most patents granted to an individual in the history of the corporation; another is a former flight controller for the International Space Station; the third was previously Miss Chicago and a semi-finalist in the Miss Illinois pageant; and the last got his start in engineering when he entered college at age 13. What they have in common is they are all proud to be engineers at The Aerospace Corporation.

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Kristine Ferrone (Photo: Eric Hamburg/The Aerospace Corporation)

Former Space Station Flight Controller Docks at Aerospace

Kristine Ferrone is relatively new at Aerospace, having been here less than three years. Previously, she was a flight controller for the International Space Station at NASA Johnson Space Center, and now works in Aerospace’s Houston office as a project engineer in the Business Development section of Civil and Commercial Operations.

She brings a bachelor’s degree and three master’s degrees to the table: a B.S. in physics/astrophysics from Carnegie Mellon University, an MBA from the University of Florida, an M.S. in sports medicine from the United States Sports Academy, and an M.S. in space architecture from the University of Houston.

Read on to discover more about Kristine and her life as an engineer.

Why did you decide to be an engineer?

I never made the conscious decision to become an engineer, it sort of happened organically. I am a scientist by training, and I worked in particle physics for two years right out of college. I still have the mentality of a scientist, always concerned with the quality of the data and determining the complete solution to the problem. However, I’ve morphed into a systems engineer over the years as my assignments at NASA and at Aerospace have required, and I now see most problems through that lens.

How did you come to work at Aerospace?

In 2010, I was a flight controller for the International Space Station at NASA Johnson Space Center and about to finish my master’s degree in space architecture. I was uncertain of future opportunities at Johnson Space Center with the upcoming end of the space shuttle program, and was just beginning to look for alternative options. That’s when John Chobany found me. He was the associate director of the Vehicle Concepts Department in Chantilly at the time, and he introduced me to the experience of being an Aerospace employee. John had to fight hard to bring me in, someone with no clearances and no experience working with DOD or NRO. I will always be appreciative of John “betting on the underdog” in my case. I like to think I have made him proud, and will continue to work hard to make sure he never doubts that decision!

What do you do in your job?

Right now I am the lead for new business development for Aerospace at NASA Johnson Space Center. In this role, I have the privilege of reaching out to NASA managers and decision-makers to determine if there’s a fit for Aerospace to offer our world-class engineering and science services. It is an intersection between engineering, science, and business and brings together a lot of diverse skills. I appreciate that one day I can spend hours at my desk researching and learning about technical topics such as hyperspectral imaging or the International Space Station’s thermal control system, and the next day I can spend the day expanding my network within NASA and seeking out new contacts for business development. I’ve always been told I’m very outgoing “for an engineer” so I suppose this role fits me quite well.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part about my job is that it is seamlessly integrated with the rest of my life. I am a lifetime learner (obviously by the number of times I’ve gone back to school!), I love to read, I love to travel, I love to meet and engage with new people, and I love to help solve problems. My job is pretty much those things, in a nutshell.

Why is your job important?

I am a proud member of CCO; I feel that our civil and commercial work enables so many enriching activities for the rest of the corporation. It is exciting to bring in a C&C task that is a bit of a stretch of the imagination for our scientists and engineers and watch them have fun with it, solving a new problem and always exceeding the expectations of the customer. It is that opportunity to stretch the mind and inject creativity into our everyday work that I value the most.

What are your hobbies/interests when you’re not at work?

I’m the CFO for a nonprofit, Astronauts for Hire, working to establish the first training program and pool of qualified candidates for commercial spaceflight. I’m also one of the candidates, so I spend a lot of my free time on my training. Besides that, you will probably find me reading on my iPad, scrapbooking, doing Turbo Jam workouts, playing with my dog, or having some drinks with my husband and friends.

 

Michael AuYeung (Photo: Elisa Haber)

Michael AuYeung (Photo: Elisa Haber/The Aerospace Corporation)

He Was in a Hurry to Become an Engineer

Michael AuYeung is a project leader in Enterprise Information Systems Development who has been at Aerospace 13 years. This bright engineer skipped high school and entered college at age 13 via the Early Entrance Program at Cal State L.A., after which he transferred to the University of Southern California (USC) to finish his bachelor’s degree.

After all that educational leaping he now has a B.S. in computer engineering and computer science and an M.S. in computer engineering from USC. Find out more about this Aerospace Corporation engineer as he answers questions posed by the Orbiter:

Why did you decide to be an engineer?

I always had an aptitude for taking things apart, though not necessarily the aptitude to put them back together. It was interesting to learn how things were actually made, and designed.

How did you come to work at Aerospace?

I was a student in the graduate program at USC, and wanted a teaching assistant or research assistant job. However, USC reserved those for foreign students with no work visas. Instead, because I was one of two U.S. citizens in the graduate program, Dr. [Cauligi] Raghavendra, who also works at Aerospace as a casual, asked me to come in for an interview.

What do you do in your job?

Currently, I have two hats. Within my organization, I’m working on Big Data (Hadoop) computing and analysis, trying to bring these new techniques to the corporation for use with our tons and tons of data. Within EIS, but outside of Development, I’m working with our folks back East to develop a classified computing architecture for now and the future.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

The balance of being able to switch between feeling like working at a place with real schedules and deadlines (i.e. “for profit” business) and a place that’s very academic and laid back, without the back stabbing.

Why is your job important?

I think my job is important because I feel like I’m making a difference with the corporate mission, that I help enable cost-effective mission assurance.

What are your hobbies/interests when you’re not at work?

I like commercial aviation and travel. So I find myself often flying around the world on a budget, and also, collecting models of planes I’ve been on, or would like to be on. I also enjoy photography.

 

Dr. Portia Jackson (Photo: Eric Hamburg)

Dr. Portia Jackson (Photo: Eric Hamburg/The Aerospace Corporation)

Miss Chicago Becomes a Ph.D. at Aerospace

Portia Jackson is a senior member of the technical staff in the Environments, Test and Assessment Department in the Engineering and Technology Group. She has been at Aerospace 4½ years and has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, and a master’s and doctorate in materials science from the University of Southern California.

Despite her degrees and engineering bent, Jackson shows that engineers can have another side. She was Miss Chicago in 2005 and was a semi-finalist in the Miss Illinois pageant that same year. We’re guessing she didn’t wear a pocket protector to that event … Read on to learn more about Jackson in her own words.

Why did you decide to be an engineer?

I decided to be an engineer after attending a DaVinci & Me engineering camp at Valparaiso University in 6th grade that my math teacher recommended I attend. I really enjoyed the hands-on activities and I always enjoyed math and science more than liberal arts so engineering fulfilled that interest. Also, I was deciding between being an engineer or a sports broadcaster and a mentor told me to go into engineering because I would be able to climb the corporate ladder and have a broader career than with broadcasting.

How did you come to work at Aerospace?

I never heard of Aerospace until I met Dr. Austin at a meet and greet at USC for the Center for Engineering Diversity during grad school. I enjoyed her talk about her career and work/life balance. She was really nice and we exchanged business cards after the event. After some follow-up I also attended the USC Engineering Career Fair and went straight to the Aerospace booth where I collected more information. It was during a hiring freeze so I had to stalk some managers over email to make sure I got in for an interview. Once I received an offer, I weighed the pros and cons against other offers I received and decided that Aerospace fit best with my professional desires.

What do you do in your job?

I review the maximum predicted environments to ensure that space systems are designed to withstand the rigors of flight. I review test plans to develop test procedures, I observe the tests to make sure they are conducted according to specification. Afterwards, I review the test data to provide independent validation of the results and observe and address any test anomalies. I archive and catalog test data for future reference. I also make random vibration and acoustic prediction models to gain an idea of what to expect in the actual test situation. I am the workshop coordinator for the Spacecraft and Launch Vehicles Dynamic Environments Workshop held every June.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Seeing a payload I worked on have a successful launch. My last successful launch was STPSat-3. I was involved with many of the payloads on that mission.

Why is your job important?

My job is important because the launch environment is very rigorous and ensuring the survivability of delicate hardware poses challenges that can only be met by preflight environmental testing such as acoustic, shock, and vibration tests.

What are your hobbies/interests when you’re not at work?

Outside of being a wife and mommy to a 2 year old and newborn, I am a die-hard Michigan Wolverines fan (I was a member of the Michigan Marching Band during my time in undergrad). I do Crossfit during my lunch breaks. (My current goal is to get 10 pull-ups in a row). I also teach personal finance workshops at my church and in my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, where I serve as chair of the Financial Fortitude committee. I host a podcast for working mothers. My husband and I enjoy going wine tasting together.

 

Dr. Robert Dybdal (Photo: Eric Hamburg)

Dr. Robert Dybdal (Photo: Eric Hamburg/The Aerospace Corporation)

An Engineer’s Passion Pays Off With Patents

Robert Dybdal is a not just an engineer, he’s a distinguished engineer in the Communications and Networking Division of the Engineering and Technology Group. During his 45 years at Aerospace, he has picked up 25 patents, making him the employee with his name on the most patents in the history of Aerospace. He holds B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Ohio State University. Following are Dybdal’s thoughts on his job as an engineer:

Why did you decide to be an engineer?

My interest in engineering stems from the enjoyment of technical challenges and the desire to solve problems by devising effective solutions.

How did you come to work at Aerospace?

The impressions Aerospace made during my interview were the apparent opportunities to grow and participate in a diverse number of programs and the knowledge and interests of the folks who interviewed me. The interview made apparent Aerospace presented a healthy research and development environment rich with the technical challenges I learned to relish during my graduate education.

What do you do in your job?

In short, my role is to help Aerospace customers develop and operate effective system solutions. This work spans devising new system designs and architectures, technology assessments, demonstrations of prototype designs to add credibility to future customer development, addressing specific problems that arise during program development and operation, and pursing new concepts with potential customer applications.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Several factors rather than a single favorite have made Aerospace an enjoyable organization:

  • an atmosphere that allows one to devise solutions for a broad base of program activities and applications
  • opportunities to be creative
  • environment to mentor Aerospace, customer, and contractor personnel
  • forming and participating in team efforts to address customer needs

Why is your job important?

Programs are team efforts and my technical and program experience is my way of contributing to corporate endeavors.

What are your hobbies/interests when you’re not at work?

One of the things I have always enjoyed is woodworking for many of the same reasons I enjoy engineering.