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Aerospace Engineering

What's it like to work as an aerospace engineer?

By the editors of gecc

NAME: Aprille Ericsson-Jackson, Ph.D

Company: NASA

"I wanted to work for an organization that put up satellites," says Aprille Ericsson-Jackson, Ph.D. A simple statement, yet for those who know the rigors of engineering school, it's anything but a basic pursuit, no matter how fertile the job market. Still, achievement has been Jackson's hallmark, and she's fulfilling her aspiration as an aerospace engineer in the Guidance, Navigation and Control, Design Analysis section of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Md.

"My engineering responsibilities include stability analysis and dynamic-structural simulation, development, simulation and analysis of the Thruster operation modes and calculation of the initial environmental disturbances for selection of the actuators," she explains. Satellite projects she has worked on include: XTE—X-Ray Timing Explorer, and TRMM—Tropical Rain Forest Measurement Mission. "For these missions, I have either developed or utilized dynamic modeling simulation programs. These programs are invaluable in predetermining the dynamics and structural reactions of the spacecraft."

Jackson, who has worked for NASA for five years (three and a half as a full-time employee), contends that a NASA internship is extremely helpful to those seeking permanent employment with the administration. "That's how I did it. Once you get your foot in the door and meet people you can show them that you are capable of doing the type of work that's done here."

Although NASA has had a hiring freeze, a thaw may be on the way. "A lot of the older folk are leaving and NASA is starting its recruitment for younger people." Jackson speculates that when NASA does begin to recruit again, it will seek entry-level engineers and will make an effort to attend such events as the National Society of Black Engineers conference.

But just because the administration will be hiring, doesn't mean that engineers and computer professionals will be applying. "Some students don't realize that if they're in electrical, civil or chemical [engineering] they can still pursue a career in aerospace," Jackson says and explains that there are applications from those disciplines that affect aerospace engineering. "And, of course, computers span everything. For instance, software for the satellites is essential."

That's why it's imperative that qualified manpower exist to develop those key technologies. Through such programs as the GSFC Speakers Bureau and a program that teams up technical professionals with young people on such projects as building a rocket, Jackson spurs the interest of minorities and females in the math, science and engineering disciplines. "The girls love it and it furthers their dreams of entering fields like this," she says.

Jackson hasn't stopped there. She created an email pipeline for under-represented groups in the technology fields to distribute announcements for federal grants and employment. "I became a conduit for the masses!" she says, adding that she draws a lot of personal satisfaction from this endeavor. "People are able to acquire information that they may not have been able to."

Aside from Jackson's words and actions, her image may soon act as an emblem for young African-American females to reinforce that a career in engineering is within reach. "Yesterday, someone told me NASA is going to put me on a poster" that will be distributed to schools. "I'm pretty pumped about that," she concludes.

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