We are launching our Alumni Spotlight Series by featuring Natalie (Dixon) Bland, a 2006 Aerospace Engineering graduate from the Daytona Beach campus. Natalie impressed us as a student assistant in the Career Services Office during her time at Embry-Riddle, so we are not surprised that she is going places as a Structural Analysis Engineer with The Boeing Company.
Space Studies Program (SSP) is a 9-week summer program managed by International Space University. Every year the program moves to a different host city around the world. This year, we were at Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) in Graz, Austria. The program consists of 3 main parts. The first four weeks are core lectures. We have 63 core lectures on every topic in space from economics and politics to life sciences to public engagement. After that we have an exam and phase two begins. In phase two, we are in one of 7 departments (life science, systems engineering, space & society, policy & law, small satellites, physical science, business & management). I was in the policy & law department. We have 12 sessions in our department. Activities vary depending on which department you selected. In policy & law, we learned about the various space treaties of the United Nations and we wrote a paper on any policy/law topic of our choice. I wrote about the contract issues NASA is facing with the Commercial Crew Program. I learned so much in this department. The third phase is the team project. There are 3 team projects with 40 students on each team. My team created a model to help mission designers choose the optimal mission scenario to accomplish an objective (Mars sample return, for example) taking numerous interdisciplinary factors into account. SSP is a very intense program, much like college. It was an amazing opportunity to network with 120 students from 31 countries as well as distinguished faculty / guest speakers. I wrote about my experience on my blog called “60 Days in Graz.”
How has your Embry-Riddle degree opened doors for you?
Because of Embry-Riddle’s excellent reputation in Aerospace Engineering, and thanks to the contacts I made at the ERAU Career Expo, I was able to obtain a job with The Boeing Company upon graduation. Boeing is a great company, and I have really enjoyed my experience there so far (5 years). There are a lot of other ERAU graduates at Boeing, so it is good to see familiar faces. In 2008, thanks to my ERAU connections at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, I was invited to be part of a team of 30 “Gen Y” employees to create a 20-year vision for JSC. Through this incredible experience I learned about strategic planning, and I have been thinking about the “big picture” of space exploration since that time.
What is one piece of career advice you would like to share?
Take the opportunity to get an internship during college. It is a fantastic way to get experience and it makes it much easier to get a job when you graduate. If possible, do more than one internship during your time at ERAU.
What are your plans for the future?
I am looking forward to getting back to Boeing to share my SSP experiences. I am currently in a technical position, performing structural analysis on the International Space Station (ISS). I hope to work on Boeing’s CST-100 vehicle (commercial crew transportation for ISS). I hope that NASA will eventually send humans to Mars. If so, I would like to be part of that program. I have had opportunities to learn about Systems Engineering and Program Management at Boeing, so I am taking steps towards positions in that direction at Boeing.