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Aerospace Engineering

What is it?


Possible Careers

When you see a rocket taking off or ride in an airplane, do you wonder how they are able to soar through Earth's atmosphere? Aerospace engineers work with aircraft and spacecraft, along with the systems surrounding them. With a degree in aerospace engineering, you can design a more fuel-efficient airplane or work at NASA building a rocket to take humans to Mars!

  • Aeronautical Engineer

  • Aircraft/Spacecraft Designer

  • Flight Test Engineer

  • Aerospace Technician

  • Rocket Scientist

Meet an Expert

Sarah Stifle

pic - Sarah Stifle.jpg
  • Graduated from Florida Tech in 2004 with a degree in Aerospace Engineering

  • Has worked at NNSY for over 15 years as a nuclear engineer in the lifting and handling branch

  • Currently the supervisor of the lifting and handling branch

Expert Q + A

What led you to choose aerospace engineering as your career?

  • Originally I chose space sciences as my major. After one semester I decided astronomy was not for me and I was interested in more of a hands-on degree that still focused on the space industry. I chose to go to Florida Tech because of it's proximity to NASA and partnership with the space industry. So I chose to change my major to Aerospace Engineering.

What is your favorite part of the job?

  • I actually work as a nuclear engineer at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY). We repair and modernize the nuclear systems on the Navy's aircraft carriers and submarines. I really enjoy the people that I work with and the fact that we are making the Navy's ships safer for our sailors who are defending our great country.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

  • To be totally honest, the biggest challenge I've faced so far in my career is becoming a mother and choosing to go back to work. It's a challenge to manage your time between work, motherhood and everything else life throws your way but you can do it. You just have to put the important stuff first and not worry too much about the rest.

What kind of education, training, or background does your job require?

  • An engineering position at NNSY requires an engineering degree and my specific job requires a lot of on-the-job training to learn about the nuclear systems we work on and the controls put in place for our safety. As a lead engineer, I've also taken it upon myself to enroll in leadership training. While this isn't required, I see leadership as an important skill that will allow you to develop better relationships with your co-workers as well as help create a work environment with positive thinkers and those willing to work together to solve problems.

What are your main responsibilities as a aerospace engineer? What kind of problems do you solve and what decisions do you make?

  • As a supervisor, my main job is to develop the engineers that work for me. I want them to learn the skills to become experts at their job and be able to make decisions and solve problems on their own but also know that I support their decision.

What skills, abilities, and personal attributes are essential to success as a aerospace engineer?

  • To be a successful aerospace engineer, or any type of engineer for that matter, I think you need to be able to work well with others to solve problems and be humble. We all have our weaknesses and that's where others come in to help you. You need to be kind. Kindness goes a long way and you'll find that people will always help you out if you've been kind to them. You need to show people that they can trust you. Be honest always, even if it means admitting you were wrong.

Describe a typical day at work.

  • I arrive at my desk around 6am and catch up on any correspondence. As my co-workers arrive I check in with each of them and see what they have going on that day. I like to walk around the shipyard at least once per day to see what's going on and check in with the mechanics we work with on a regular basis. They occasionally have problems I can help them solve and it's good to be aware of the work that is going on and if our presence is needed for that work. Most days are also filled with phone calls, a meeting or two and catching up on paperwork that needs to be issued.

What current issues and trends in aerospace engineering should girls who are interested in the field know about?

  • Since I haven't actually worked in the aerospace industry, I can tell you a little bit about the Navy and, more specifically, it's nuclear program. The Navy will always have nuclear ships that need to be built, repaired and modernized. This will never go away. Technology is constantly changing and improving and we need to be on top of this and willing to learn new ways of doing things and thinking outside of the box to solve problems more efficiently. I think this rings true for all fields of engineering.

What advice would you give a tween/teen girl who is interested in becoming a aerospace engineer?

  • The aerospace industry has so many opportunities right now from developing more efficient passenger aircraft to the next generation space craft and opportunities to travel to Mars. The limits are endless. If this is what you want to do, go for it! Read about it, find experts in the field to talk to, look for summer jobs or internships to expand your knowledge in the field.

Interested? Try This!

Beginner Craft

Advanced Craft

In this engineering challenge, you will be trying to dock a "spaceship" in its landing site. This activity requires a lot of teamwork, so students will have to work together in order to dock the spaceship successfully!

In this craft, you will be building and launching a rocket! By combining vinegar and baking soda in a bottle sealed with a cork, pressure builds up in the rocket. Eventually, all that pressure forces the cork out of the bottle and the rocket shoots high into the air!

Detailed Instructions:

Detailed Instructions:

Photo Example:

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Video Tutorial:

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