As an aeronautical engineer associate, Alex Zimmerman works for the Lockheed Martin Space System company by advancing the technology of space re-entry vehicles. The recent graduate credits the technical background he received at ISU as the foundation for his success at Lockheed Martin, but adds that passion and a sense of community are the elements that have taken his own career advancement a step further.
What are your job duties?
Aerothermodynamic analysis of hypersonic re-entry vehicles; computational fluid dynamics; trajectory design optimization; flight performance evaluation; aerodynamic database management; developing and maintaining engineering tools using Fortran and MATLAB languages.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I’ve been working for about a year now, and I’ve been able to spend much of my time learning advanced tools and techniques critical to the design and analysis of re-entry vehicles. Lockheed Martin is doing a great job of funding my training so that I may become an expert in my field. I especially enjoy applying these methods to some of the most advanced aircraft ever flown, such as DARPA’s HTV-2. Also, I regularly host brown bag lunches to discuss Fortran and MATLAB programming with my fellow engineers. I have fond memories of helping ISU aerospace students learn programming as a peer mentor, and I am happy to already be considered a resource by my peers at Lockheed Martin.
What advice would you offer current aerospace engineering undergraduates?
First and foremost: work hard. While you’re at it, learn as much as you can; and don’t underestimate how much of the material is going to be needed in your professional life. I can’t think of a single class that wasn’t directly relevant to my current job; and sometimes I wish I would have taken better notes. I’m sure you’ll hear this from plenty of sources, but there’s no substituting the value of a relevant internship and/or undergraduate research. I recommend a mix of both (that’s what I did) especially if you’re considering graduate school. Finally, find your passion and pursue it; or in other words: know what you want, and ask for it. Part of this should involve you exploring your passion in extracurricular activities or independent projects, hopefully with the help of an organization such as Make to Innovate (M:2:I). Having a real passion for the job to which you eventually apply will put you leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
What was the most valuable thing you learned as an undergrad?
Problem solving. As engineering undergraduates, we get so much experience solving problems. By the end of your degree, you’ll naturally apply a rigorous approach to solving engineering problems, and it will be entirely habitual. There are plenty of other important skills that you’ll learn in the aerospace engineering program at ISU, technical and soft, but I think that this is our most valuable asset. I would guess that any quality engineering program can boast the same, so that’s where this ties back into your passion. The aerospace engineering program allows you to develop this problem solving habit and engineering fundamentals while exploring awesome projects that feed your passions as an aerospace enthusiast, and while learning specific skills that differentiate you from your engineering peers when applying for a position in the aerospace industry.
What is your fondest memory of your time in the department/ISU?
I fondly remember the sense of community we had in the department. We all strove together to accomplish common goals, while helping each other learn and have fun. I’ve borrowed this mentality from the department and carried it forward into my professional life; and I’m glad to have found a similar environment with my team at Lockheed Martin. I’m especially thankful to those of my peers at ISU who had the willpower and tenacity to correct the most resolved of my mistaken ideas.