Young A&D Professional: Rachel Elliott

Corporate Engineer
Northrop Grumman, 2.5 years
M.S. Virginia Tech, Physics
B.S. Virginia Tech, Physics and Math (Astronomy Minor)

When did you first decide to take STEM courses and/or pursue a career in engineering?

STEM became an important part of my life in college. In high school, I was focused on my extracurricular activities which were more athletic and artistic than technical, but I had always enjoyed math, so I signed up to be a physics major, unsure if I was going to make the cut. I discovered that with hard work and discipline you can excel in even the most intimidating fields.

Who was most influential in your decision making?

An important role model in my STEM career has been my uncle. He studied physics as well and his  equation-based stories about the strange behavior of space and time that underpins special relativity or wave-particle duality described in quantum mechanics mesmerized me. These conversations were the inspiration for that first critical step of walking through the physics’ department doors.

What do you do in your job?

People are the most important aspect of my job even in an engineering role. As a systems engineer, I approach problems holistically. I consider the mission objective, the impact of the underlying technical challenge across all disciplines, and the roles of my colleagues.  Therefore the key to my success is centered on teamwork with the wonderful people with whom I work and constant awareness that our customers need our solutions to overcome the challenges of the present.

Why do you like your job?

The road to a better future is waiting to be paved by the next generation of STEM professionals. With today’s computing power and global connectivity, we live in an age of limitless potential. It could not be a more exciting time to work in this industry!  If you invest the time and energy to give yourself a strong foundation, you will be rewarded with the opportunity to address important and invigorating problems. You will be part of a team built from visionaries that look toward the possibilities of tomorrow instead of the limitations of today.

Any advice to young students wanting to pursue a career in engineering and enter the aerospace industry?

STEM is often associated with developing quantitative skills, but I want to highlight the fact that critical thinking and creativity are equally important elements. I love to draw, and staying in touch with the arts is an important part of my life. My artistic background gives me a competitive edge that provides unique problem-solving abilities. From drawing a system architecture to storyboarding mockups of user interfaces, my STEM career is far more than crunching numbers. STEM roles are diverse enough to satisfy any professional appetite. Position yourself to find the creative environment you can thrive in!