Alumni Spotlight: Rick Uskert

Richard Uskert 2x3_6367Rick Uskert graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Daytona Beach in 1996 with a degree in Aircraft Engineering Technology.  He is currently a Senior Engineer at Textron Systems Unmanned Systems.

What has been your career path since graduating from Embry-Riddle?

My career started during one of the slumps in the aerospace industry and I took a job with a company in NW Indiana designing industrial equipment. After a few months, I interviewed with a consulting engineering firm in the Chicago suburbs which providing structural and fatigue fracture analysis to the aviation industry, both commercial and military. The guys I worked for and with were brilliant, having written fatigue analysis and damage tolerance of structures content for several publications; however, I as a more creative person at heart – and still am – so post-damage analysis wasn’t a path I wished to pursue.

The next five years were spent working in the medical industry, designing instruments for minimally invasive open heart surgery, stents, airway management and many other products. As the company manufactured product for many of the big companies, such as Abbott, CTI and Stryker, I touched many products which were mainstays of the operating room and in-home care products during the 1990’s and 2000’s.

From there I turned back to aviation and, while working at Pratt & Whitney, furthered my education and career through a Master’s degree in Management and New Product Development at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Hartford, CT. During my time at P&W, I worked with a great team in the Compression Systems Module Center (CSMC) designing and analyzing composite components for the F119 and F135 engines which power the F-22 and F-35 aircraft.

My next hop was to Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis to design Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMC) components for the hot section of advanced technology gas turbine engines. The composite technologies used between the front end of the P&W and the back end of the RR engines couldn’t be more dissimilar and each had their quirks and limitations which needed to be accounted for in the product designs, which made each task challenging. Working at the leading edge of ceramic matrix composite technology application has led to a number of patent applications for our team.

Currently, I work for Textron Systems Unmanned Systems, formerly AAI, in Maryland as a Sr. Aero/Mech Engineer, responsible for managing project tasking and the associated resources to integrate new product onto the legacy Shadow UAVs, increase capabilities through airframe upgrades and provide product designs to future systems.

You have worked in a variety of fields, what lessons have you gained from varied experiences?

The first lesson I learned was engineering is engineering and the fundamentals are the same. Designing a product to save someone’s life in the operating room is not much different than designing one to protect a soldier’s life on the battlefield. Each project starts with requirements, progresses through material selection, design analysis and manufacturing. I’m simplifying here, but the fundamentals are the same; one only needs a willingness to learn the differences in materials and how best use them in each application.

With each employment change, I have been able to draw upon knowledge I gained from past experiences, all the way back to the beginning of my career, even though it has been based upon dissimilar products and/or industries.

I have also learned what I enjoyed the most, and personally that is working in a small company environment. Those companies are the most dynamic and they offer opportunities to act in multiple roles and to get one’s hands dirty building product. That has been most enjoyable for me.

I have worked with a number of great, experienced teams; resulting in products which have helped many people continue their own lives and professions. Because of this, I do not look for a greatest accomplishment in my career, as I associate that with an object and I tend to be more of an experience type of person. That being said, I have considered meeting soldiers who have stated that our products have been responsible for their safe return from the field as well as people which have used the medical products I helped develop as highlights to my career. Those instances act as reminders as to why I choose to work on these products.

What advice do you have for graduating students to be successful in the job search?

Everyone is encouraged to research the company and the job they are considering applying for as best as they can. Many times a job posting is very general, especially for entry level positions, so one should understand the type of products that company and/or division develops. Make sure that is what you want to work on and tailor your experiences to that company. It takes time and effort; however, it allows you to stand out as a candidate.

All companies are interested in understanding what you have accomplished individually and as a team member. Include two or three examples of this information on your resume in a concise manner. If you are invited for an interview, be excited about being there and confident in presenting your product: yourself. During the interview process, we are judging your personality and how well you may fit with those already established on the team in addition to your technical ability.

Finally, look for opportunities that may not be the vision of your dream job, as one does not fall into that position upon walking off campus. These other experiences open doors in the future, allowing you to set a path towards that end goal, as it changes over your career.

 

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Faculty Spotlight: Lisa Davids

Lisa DavidsLisa Davids is an Associate Professor in the College of Engineering and serves as the Program Coordinator for the Department of Engineering Fundamentals on the Daytona Beach Campus.

What motivated you to pursue an engineering vocation, and when did you know you were interested in that field?  Were there professionals who encouraged you to attain that goal?

My dad was a foreman for my grandfather’s pool construction company (Burley Built Pools), and he and my uncle used to work on the construction blueprints together; I remember being fascinated by the drawings and wondering how they knew where to put things and create those detailed and complex drawings.  I believe that started my interest in design.  When I was in junior high (middle school), one day our toaster broke at home.  Before my Mom went to get a new one, I had taken it apart, figured out what was wrong and fixed it.  That was the first time I showed signs of mechanical curiosity and learning how things worked…I was starting to become an engineer before I knew what engineering was.  By the time I was in high school, I enjoyed my mathematics and science courses the most.  I excelled at chemistry, enjoyed physics, and couldn’t get enough of math.  My counselor suggested engineering, and I looked into it.  Mechanical Engineering sounded the most intriguing to me so that is what I pursued in college.

Tell us about your background and what motivated you to pursue your vocation as a faculty member at ERAU?

Becoming a professor at ERAU was never a goal before I started teaching here.  I knew I enjoyed tutoring and explaining ideas and processes to people as I was a graduate assistant and enjoyed that part of the job.  I, in fact, did look for a few teaching jobs before landing my project engineering position for an organization that, at the time, was owned by Westinghouse.  This organization was responsible for the design, fabrication, installation maintenance and disposal of the nuclear power plants for our Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers.  This was an exciting job and truly a wonderful experience.  The only problem was that it was located in up-state NY, and I was a native Floridian (actually, native Daytonian).  This new weather and culture was so different to my husband and I that we never quite adapted to it.  So when our son was born, we decided to move back to Florida to be near our families.  Once we moved back here, I had an interview for an adjunct position for ERAU.  I taught one section of Fluid Mechanics, and that was it; I was in love with teaching.  Since then I have been promoted to Instructional Specialist, then Instructor, to Assistant Professor and now to Associate Professor and currently serve as the Program Coordinator for the Department of Engineering Fundamentals.

Why did ERAU develop a First Year Program for Engineers?  What advice would you give to First Year Engineering students?

The College of Engineering at ERAU decided that a First Year Engineering Program would be essential to properly prepare students for their future engineering coursework.  It was also driven by the desire to ensure as common as a first year curriculum as possible (common across all engineering degree programs), to allow students to transfer between degree programs without losing credits, or to afford them the chance to consider all of the programs offered here before settling on a decision by the end of their first year.  The best advice I can give to first year engineering students is to practice and study all of their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses everyday.  Whether they have assigned homework or not or whether they’ve finished their homework or not, they should rework problems, reread their chapters and practice (for short bursts of time) the subjects everyday.  This is how one not only becomes proficient, but it increases their ability to recall the concepts at will.

What are the highlights of your career so far?

Creating enduring friendships and professional relationships with some of the amazing students who have walked through the doors of ERAU.

What advice would you give students about the importance of participating in clubs/organizations as part of their educational program…and are there specific ones you would encourage?  Tell us about your involvement with some of the clubs for which you’ve been the faculty sponsor.

Becoming involved in your University’s co-curricular programs is essential to your success both as a student and as a professional.  I always recommend that students should become involved (over an extended period of time) in at least one student chapter of a professional organization (for example, Society of Women Engineers or American Society of Mechanical Engineers) and one hands-on, design-oriented competitive organization (for example, The Women’s Baja SAE team here at ERAU).  The professional affiliation is excellent for introducing students to members of the professional field and providing networking opportunities.  Most memberships come with a journal subscription, giving students insight and cutting edge news into the professional field in which they are interested.  The hands-on competitive clubs provide engineering students the chance to apply the theory they’ve learned to a full-cycle project.  It often times requires that they learn beyond the introductory concepts covered in class and requires they practice their teamwork skills.  It is in this environment that students truly learn what it means to be an active engineer as a part of an engineering team.  They learn skills that simply cannot be taught in a traditional classroom setting but are best acquired through trial and error and through the struggle of doing it themselves.

You’ve won a number of teaching awards.  Name some and is there one you are most proud of?

Oh man – this is one of those questions you really just love being asked, but are a little embarrassed to answer!   The most meaningful awards are those that recognize what I enjoy the most – teaching.  I have won several College of Engineering Faculty Member of the Year Awards, voted on and presented by the graduating class for that year.  Truly, those awards mean the most to me as they came from the students themselves, the ones with whom I am in the classroom the most.  I have also been awarded the Faculty-selected Outstanding Teaching Award.  Of course, I am very proud to have been recognized by my peers for my teaching strategies and style, but the student awards are truly the best to receive.

Conference Spotlight: National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Annual Convention

by Kristy Amburgey

DSC_3557Attending conferences and events is an excellent way to professionally network, learn new information as related to your career and identify employment opportunities.  The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) 39th Annual Convention, to be held March 27 – 31, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana, is a great example of an event where you can both personally and professionally grow.  In fact, the annual NSBE conference, and the many events they host throughout the year, has resulted in great success stories for Embry-Riddle students and alumni.  Two such success stories come from Marie-Jeanne Steady Ndiaye (or MJ) and Vincent Bell.  We asked both of these alumni to share their experiences with the NSBE Convention.

Why did you decide to attend NSBE in 2012?

MJ: It was a very simple and pragmatic decision to come to. As an undergraduate student, I tried to attend as many professional conferences /conventions as I could; it is the best way to meet industry leaders and others who share your enthusiasm about your field.  The other reason why I attended the convention is that I quite frankly liked not being the “odd one out”. There typically aren’t many minority attendants; there’s this belief that we are not interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), so it’s nice to be reminded it is just a “myth”.

Vincent: I decided to attend the NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) Convention in 2012 after talking to Mr. Mark Lyden about working for The Boeing Company at the end of February or early March 2012.  He told me that Boeing and various companies go to the convention to hire knowledgeable minorities.  So my main reason for going was to obtain a job after graduating from ERAU.  However, I also saw an opportunity to present what I was working on at that time at the conference when I saw there were so many cancellations in the conference presentation schedule.

What was the conference like for you?

MJ: It was a bit overwhelming at first because there were thousands of attendees rushing and buzzing around. There was a multitude of sessions, workshops, and discussions panels. I just didn’t know how I was going to make the most of the convention and what events to attend. All I knew was that I wanted to take it ALL in!

Vincent: The conference was great, and I had an unbelievable experience.  The first day that I got there I met up with couple of other ERAU students.  And Mr. Lyden, who I had been in contact with prior to the convention, wanted to meet with all the ERAU students that attended the conference, and he invited us to an exclusive Boeing talk, to where we were able to talk to Boeing managers and Boeing engineers that came for the conference.  The second day I ended up presenting on what I was conducting research on with Dr. Bereket Berhane.

Everyone that has been to an ERAU career fair would enjoy the NSBE Convention.  The convention is one huge career fair with so many engineering companies/firms and graduate schools trying to get qualified students to come to their program and study. Plus this gives the companies opportunity to see what you know by means of presentation.  For example, after my first interview, which was with Boeing, I invited my two interviewers to my presentation, and one actually came.  So it was great experience for your potential employer to see what you know and how well you can present information to others that may or may not be as knowledgeable on the subject at hand.

Overall, it was great, and the feedback I received was amazing.

Where there any outcomes from NSBE Conference?

MJ: Definitely! I really enjoyed the Educational Sessions, including:

  • Professional Development sessions –  provided me with soft skills to my academic and professional career ahead
  • Mentoring sessions – provided a framework that I used for my grad school selection/application process. That session also helped me outline for myself how I wanted to maximize my grad school experience
  • Outreach sessions – we had an opportunity to interact with local high schoolers, conducting experiments and answering questions about different STEM fields. This sparked my interest for Science Outreach and more specifically promoting Space Ethos. So much so, that when I started working at the Kennedy Space Center, I joined the Speakers Bureau, which is a group of volunteers who represent the center at civic, professional, educational, and other public events. Bureau members are exceptionally qualified to discuss general and specific aspects of the activities and technologies associated with the space flight program

Vincent: Of course the big aerospace companies were there (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and others).  So I earned 5 interviews in those three days: Boeing, Raytheon, Goldman Sachs, Northrop Grumman, and Texas Instruments.

The interview with Northrop Grumman was for thermal analysis engineering, and I never heard anything back from them.  The Texas Instruments interview was for mechanical engineering.  Texas Instruments never contacted me back again.  The interview with Goldman Sachs was for financial analyst, where, if I received an offer, I would be inspecting engineering project funding.  I had a follow up phone interview but ultimately did not receive an offer.  The interview with Raytheon was for Navigation, Guidance, Control (GNC) engineering and with the Raytheon Missile Systems.  Raytheon Missile Systems actually flew me to Tucson, AZ for a hiring event with about 100 other applicants for various job openings.  I ultimately received a job offer with them.  My interview with Boeing was for a fuel system engineer.  The day after this interview, I was told that I would receive an offer within the month for a job with Boeing.   I took the job with Boeing over Raytheon.

Why should students/alumni attend this conference?

MJ: Three words: networking, development, and exposure! I think that is pretty self-explanatory. If you are a black engineer, you NEED to attend the national convention.

Because the National Convention focuses mainly on the big 4 (Electrical, Mechanical, Software, and Civil Engineering), I would strongly urge ERAU students with interest in space to join the NSBE Space Special Interest Group (commonly referred to as Space SIG). It is one of NSBE’s star programs and is opened to college students as well as alumni.

They are actually hosting a conference in January, Space Technology Session 2013 (next one won’t be until 2015!) that is unlike other conferences in that it is actually a hands-on engineering session.  Participants are divided into groups with each group being assigned to work on a pre-defined set of deliverables for one of NSBE’s space-related technical projects.   It offers students an opportunity to work in an apprentice-like setting with industry engineers, managers, and scientists. This is how I developed and honed my technical proficiency!

Vincent: Students and alumni should attend this conference because companies come to this convention to hire participants.   Knowing that you have a huge chance of getting hired is a main reason why the ERAU family should attend.  Even if you are a freshman, you can standout for the upcoming years and help your chances either with a job or internship, when you are ready.  When you are looking for a job and applying via the internet, companies do not know you nor see your passion.  They only see what you put on your resume at the time.  And that is if you did your resume right and tailored your resume to that job announcement to which you just applied.  But at this conference you are talking to people who are eager to talk to you to see what you know, and you can pick apart their brains at any time.  They want you to ask a lot of questions as much as possible.  Companies are really looking for the best applicant possible that they can hire.  So I think for ERAU students and alumni, we are those types of people that they can hire and train very easily.

Vincent also has some additional advice for students who will be graduating soon.

The advice I would give students who are graduating soon is to go out there and apply and apply to all jobs for which you are qualified.  Before I went the NSBE Convention, I applied to about 350 jobs in 2 and half months.  From these that I applied to, I only heard back from 10 or 15 of the companies.  None of them offered me a job at all.  After the NSBE Convention, I had two offers after talking to 5 companies.

Another piece of advice I will give is when you get a chance to have an interview (either over the phone or in person), ask as many questions that pertain to the job or the betterment of you ultimately receiving an offer.  For example, in every interview that I have had over the past 2 years, I have asked the employers what about my resume stood out to them.  If something stood out to them, it possibly may stand out to others as well.  Another question I have asked is what is something that I can change (either on the resume or the interview itself) that will help with next interview you may have.  This question will show employers you are eager to learn something new about yourself and work on weaknesses that may be apparent to them.  Also, you should ask questions on relevant projects that company has worked on and/or on which they are currently working.  This will show your interest in the company with which you are hoping to get a job.

At the end of your interview, make sure you have business cards of all those people that interviewed you.  Wait about a week or two and then email them.  In your email, you just want to tell them thank you for the opportunity to talk to them.  You are not asking where you stand in the interview process.  This step will allow you to pop back up in their head because they received an email from you, and it is another way to stand out above the rest of the people that they may have interviewed.

I hope these tips help all ERAU students and alumni get jobs upon graduating.

Based on our alumni feedback, you can see that the NSBE Convention is a great opportunity for candidates seeking opportunities, both right now and in the future.  Besides professional development and networking opportunities, you will have access to many premier companies who are hiring like Battelle, Boeing, CIA, General Dynamics, Johnson Controls, Lockheed Martin, Toyota, United Technologies Corporation and many more.

Kristy Amburgey is the Associate Director of Career Services – Daytona Beach campus and currently manages marketing and employer relations for the department.  She has been with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for approximately 10 years and with Career Services for nine years.

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