Institute Celebrates 20 Years of Promoting Excellence
The creation of The Aerospace Institute (TAI) was announced by President and CEO Pete Aldridge in June of 1994 to provide world-class professional development for leadership in space systems planning, engineering, and technology applications.
The late Dr. Jack Schiewe, TAI’s first executive director appointed by Aldridge, assembled a group of people to form an agenda and to outline what the Institute would look like.
One of those individuals was Dr. Bill Ailor, currently principal engineer, Vehicle Systems Division. Schiewe asked him to develop the overview and transition plan, including the vision and goals for the Institute and its programs.
Ailor explained that he worked on the corporate strategic plan during that time and Aerospace was talking a lot about its space systems architecture and engineering capabilities. According to Ailor, the question arose, “How many of our engineers actually had training in these new disciplines and how could we expand our capabilities?
“With the input of many internal organizations, TAI was formed to be a focal point for all of our training and staff development activities and to recognize individuals who successfully complete training in critical areas by providing certification programs,” he said. “One of the first to be offered was in systems engineering.”
After Aerospace President and CEO Eberhardt Rechtin retired and joined the University of Southern California, he initiated a systems engineering masters program at USC that the Institute incorporated in its offerings. Several Aerospace employees were enrolled in this two-year program and received masters of science degrees. Some of those graduates later contributed to building the Institute’s technical courses, according to Ailor.
Dr. David Evans, retiree casual, The Aerospace Institute, became involved with initial TAI activities when he was on staff to Schiewe in the Engineering and Technology Group before Schiewe became the executive director. Evans helped with the curriculum development by using his previous experience as a faculty member of the Air Force Academy. Evans was appointed executive director in late 1995, when Schiewe retired, and served as the second executive director for 14 years.
The board of trustees took an active interest in the direction for TAI, especially in the technical curriculum in space systems engineering, according to Evans. The board established an advisory committee to review the program, which was very valuable in helping Evans set priorities.
“The biggest challenge was to make TAI a valued resource for the corporation and its employees,” Evans said. “Since there had never been an institute, many employees, especially our very bright technical staff, questioned why an institute was needed and how it would use crucial corporate resources. I think we were successful in enlisting the support of executive management and many of our very best technical staff in developing programs and services that met corporate needs,” he said.
Evans added that he thinks they were especially successful in developing a culture of ongoing learning for the corporation, indicating that employees recognized that they needed to incorporate continuing learning into their job. He said they were also successful in integrating learning and knowledge resources such as classes, the library, and The Aerospace Press under a single umbrella organization.
Marilee Wheaton became the third executive director of TAI late in 2009 after serving as general manager of the Systems Engineering Division.
Her first priority in her new post was to further increase the value of the Institute to Aerospace employees and to be a key enabler of the Aerospace corporate strategic plan. She explained that she was asked to provide training and services to a widely distributed employee population, both demographically and geographically, in a cost-efficient and effective way, which included the use of more online and digital resources.
“I am most proud of being able to successfully advocate for and implement a corporate learning management system, the Talent and Learning Center (TLC),” she said. “The organization had needed one for over five years, but wasn’t able to procure one. With the TLC, we are better able to offer programs online via e-learning, and to streamline training processes to be more effective.”
Wheaton said that she is also pleased with the corporate leadership programs such as Aerospace Leadership Today. Partnering with Human Resources, she feels that they have raised the bar on workforce development. In fact, the Institute was recently recognized as a Silver Learning Elite organization by Chief Learning Officer magazine.
So what does the future hold for the Institute?
Wheaton said that she is working very closely with Human Resources and Enterprise Information Services to further improve knowledge management and collaboration at the corporation. TAI is partnered with EIS for the Microsoft 365 effort, and it is making plans to repurpose the library building in El Segundo to better serve the future collaboration needs of the corporation.
“Our 20th Anniversary theme is “Promoting Employee Excellence,” she said. “As a key part of the celebration, it’s the contributions across the company that we are recognizing for their service to promoting excellence.”