What got you into engineering, Carey?
Throughout astrophysics in college I always loved the challenges of orbital dynamics. I constantly wanted to know the different possibilities of getting different masses to different orbits in space, and the power required to get there. I read a book called “The Eye in the Sky” about a satellite mission called Corona in the late 60’s. The technology requirements fascinated me and I wanted to know more about satellites, rockets, and orbits.
You attended the University of Wyoming. What did you study?
I have a BS in physics, and a graduate certificate in space systems engineering.
Favorite and/or most challenging courses:
Orbital dynamics. Very challenging to understand orbit, gravity, mass, and fuel efficiencies.
What got you into the field of trajectory analysis?
Interest in orbital dynamics, and persistence to learn rocket mechanics.
Engineers have a lot of computerized models to analyze where a rocket goes, if the computers are doing the work, where does the engineer come in?
The engineer writes the program and the analysis and creates the models that are then run through a computer for processing.
Why did you try out to be a college cheerleader? I cheered for 3 years. I tried out because I was watching a basketball game and saw a basket toss (the guys tossed a girl high in the air and she did a back flip), and I said “I want to do that” – so I tried out and made it!
Which came first, interest in engineering or cheerleading?
I have always loved gymnastics and dance for as long as I can remember, but in first grade I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said “a professional dancer or a scientist” so I think it was mutual! 🙂
So what’s your day job like?
I model a trajectory (path of flight) for a rocket, and document the rocket’s constant location in space. I model many different rockets including missiles and orbital flights (rotating around the Earth). For missile analysis, the target location is important, as it determines where the rocket will be launched. We have multiple launch locations in the U.S. including California, Alaska, Florida, and near Hawaii. For different orbits (distances away from earth), the launch location is also important. I also have to consider the size of the rocket needed. For satellite orbits a larger rocket will be needed to carry the satellite far into orbit, but for missiles trying to reach a target location on Earth a smaller rocket is used. Rocket size is created by different motor sizes called rocket stages. I spend most of my time creating and writing programs on the computer, to simulate a rocket launch, and performing analysis or testing if a particular rocket could do a task at hand.
What does it mean to you to be an engineer?
It means being a part of and being involved in varied and exciting new advances and activities, such as sending a spacecraft to Mars, or enabling hypersonic flight.
How do the qualities that make you a cheerleader benefit you as an engineer?
The ability to speak out in front of people and being the center of attention helps me with presentations and proposals when I am needed for speaking to an audience.
Have you encountered stereotypes in your career, and if so, how have you handled them?
It was always a challenge in cheerleading. In college I had physics professors roll their eyes when I had to miss class to cheer for the basketball team at the NCAA tournament. I had to work hard to prove to them that I was a very capable physicist/astrophysicist. They didn’t believe that there could be a mix with academia and athletics. As an engineer, we get stereotyped as “introverts” and “nerds.” I am happy to show that I am bubbly, outgoing, and an extrovert as an engineer. I love telling people what I do for a living and surprise them!!
About breaking down the stereotypes… I strive to be a positive role model to young women everywhere that we do not have to be a girl in the box (where the box is the label that society places on us) . We can be cheerleaders, we are smart, and we can strive in a situation where society says we can not.
Best cheerleading experience?
Cheering for the University of Wyoming basketball team at the NCAA tournament and being on TV. 🙂
Best engineering experience:
Becoming a Mission Planning lead for a conventional strike missile concept development, developing a rapid mission planning tool suite and preparing presentation materials for a guidance, navigation, and controls national conference.
Would you change your degree, and if so, what would it be?
Yes, I would focus more on orbital dynamics and space system engineering.
What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Continue to do what you want. And don’t stop until you get there.
One thing people find surprising about you?
That I’m an engineer.
I play a lot of doubles volleyball tournaments all summer long. I love to kayak and paddle board, and spend time with my 3-year-old daughter.