Engineering in Real Life - Alyssa Emerson

Meet Alyssa Emerson
Industrial Engineer
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics
What’s your earliest memory of wanting to be an engineer or being excited about engineering?

Growing up, I always found myself watching the men in my family build motorcycles and dune buggies. There was always something about putting hundreds of individual pieces together to make something work and I always wanted to know why and how. I was never really pushed with school to get good grades, but I wanted to be involved and learn as much as I could. I joined a Science Olympiad team in elementary school and a mathletes team in middle school. Although I had always been excited about science and math, I did not know what “engineering” was until I was in high school. I guess I just always gravitated towards engineering.

What field of engineering are you in?

I am currently in the Industrial Engineering field and I absolutely love it! I started off as an electrical engineering student and when I made the switch over to Industrial engineering, I knew I was home. In January, I begin my journey towards my Master’s degree in systems engineering with a focus on project management.

Duke_Picture.jpgGraduating from Cal Poly Ponoma.
When did you first decide to take STEM courses and/or pursue a career in engineering?

Alyssa: I was entering my junior year in high school and needed to choose an elective and “Digital Electronics” was what I chose. I didn’t have any expectations going into the class, but looking back now, it changed my life. One of our assignments that spanned the semester was to design, code, and create a machine that would sort marbles, carry them to another location and make a noise when it was complete. I would stay after school to work on my project and it took me only a couple of weeks! I couldn’t get enough, so I helped my classmates design their projects as well and I knew I was hooked.

Tell us about your Lockheed Martin career journey.

Alyssa: I was about five years old when I first remember seeing the skunk on the side of a Lockheed Martin hangar. I lived three minutes from one of the Lockheed Martin locations and I was in the back seat of my parent’s car as we drove past it almost every week. One day, I asked my parents what that building was and what happened there. My dad said, “That’s Lockheed Martin and I have no clue what they are doing there right now.” I then asked what was up with the skunk? He said, “I think that’s their logo, like a mascot. They are skunks.” I remember saying, “Well, I’m going to be a skunk.” The funniest thing about that story is I totally forgot I wanted to be a skunk. Fast forward to college, I got involved in projects sponsored by many defense companies and I found out why the building in my neighborhood was called “The Skunk Works.” I had to make sure the dreams of my five-year old self would be fulfilled. I met my now colleague during a conference presentation and then my manager during a conference in Florida. I made sure to land an interview. While I was driving out of the Skunk Works from my interview, I realized that the street leaving the building turned into the street I grew up on. I thought about everything I had just gone through in my life, and realized it had all come back full-circle. So I called my dad crying and let him know, “Dad, I made it. I’m a skunk.”
The great outdoors.
What attracted you to Lockheed Martin and what keeps you here?

Alyssa: The people and the challenge have been my biggest attractions to Lockheed Martin. Everyone that I work with has so much to offer and share. The work is challenging, and I really have to think outside the box. I also appreciate that Lockheed Martin provides an opportunity for further education and trainings. I’ve been able to attend conferences to recruit, and I start my Master’s degree in January. Having every Friday off is a perk too!

Volleyball at Cal Poly Ponoma.

What do you do in your current role?

Alyssa: Our team is trained to wear many hats depending on the day and project we are working. Mainly, I help the program create, organize, and maintain schedules for the aircraft. I work with the supervisors and managers daily reviewing metrics and understanding complex data that assists the program in understanding how well we are performing compared to what we expected. I am also leading an employee council to standardize our processes, training on systems that the industrial engineer's in our program utilize and will be overseeing a few process improvement projects in our program.

What do you like most about your job?

Alyssa: I love that every day is different. There is some repetitive work, but there always seems to be a new challenge to work on. My managers allow me the freedom to take charge and use my knowledge to figure out the best solution to mitigate any potential issues. I feel trusted and impactful and that is something that is not available to everyone.

What excites you most about the future of Engineering?

Alyssa: Engineering is constantly evolving and improving systems, products, technology, the way we live, and so much more. It’s exciting to know that I am part of a community of people who want to improve current experiences and create new ones. I would read about scientists and engineers whose inventions changed the world and it encourages me to think outside the box so I can one day be in my children’s science/engineering books.

What piece of advice would you give to someone in the engineering community who is struggling with the transition of becoming an early-career engineer?

Alyssa: My greatest advice is that you all recognize that this is where you are meant to be at this moment. It may feel uncomfortable and that is how you know you are growing! When you first began high school, you probably felt uncomfortable. You most likely felt the same when you began college. The early-career engineer is another time in your life to learn, grow, and find your purpose. I promise, you will find your way. Find a mentor and a group of engineers that support your career goals and can help you learn. I read something once that has stuck to me since my freshman year in college. I don’t remember all of the quote but it was something along the lines of, “Always surround yourself with people who are better than you.” When I began to put that quote in action, it was a gamechanger! I asked more questions, was questioned more, and learned things I never knew before! It made me and the ones around me better.

Alyssa, showing off her adventurous side.

Aside from your current field of engineering, what other fields interest you the most? And why?

Alyssa: I am extremely interested in anthropology. I love to learn about people and why we do what we do. Even though we are very complex animals, we are all similar and that always amazes me. Everyone has their own personality, emotions, dreams, and backgrounds but if you narrow it down, we are so similar. A book I found interesting and highly recommend reading is called “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. This book dissects a habit and explains how we can manipulate our bad habits, create better habits, and change our lives. I tried it for myself and it’s such a simple science!

If you weren’t a successful Lockheed Martin engineer, what would you be doing?

Alyssa: I am not sure. I believe that where I am now is where I am supposed to be. I dream of travelling the world and living on an island, sharing food with my neighbors, and writing books. I know that is something that will happen one day, but today, I am learning to be the best me in my current role.

What hobbies or passions define you outside of engineering?

Alyssa: I LOVE volleyball, am an avid reader, and a green thumb in the making. I recently built a garden with my fiancé and quickly learned that growing plants takes skill and patience! Although I haven’t in a while, I love to hike and camp. The outdoors always provides the peace and “reset” that I need to get me through tough days. If I had an “ideal” day just for myself to focus on hobbies, I would go to the beach, play volleyball with friends, read a good book and sunbathe after hanging in the water.

Young and old. 

What was the most recent thing you learned in your career?

Alyssa: I learn something new every week! The most recent thing I’ve learned is how to use a data analysis system that produces easy-to-read charts. I love to code, so it was a great way to “show off” my skills and benefit the program I support. It doesn’t sound fun, but I can assure you it is! Being able to code has created so many opportunities and it always amazes me how powerful of a skill it is. As technology advances, I am lucky to be in a company that wants to keep up with the growth.

What one piece of advice would you give to your past self?

Alyssa: Don’t underestimate the power of asking for something. There were many times I was too scared to ask for help or ask for advice. Once I got over that fear and realized that I needed others to help, that is when the opportunities appeared, and I gained more confidence. I built a circle of friends and resources that helped me get through the hard times and I will always be thankful for that. You can’t do things on your own. Build your village.

What materials, blogs, websites, journals, twitter feeds do you follow to keep up on the ever-changing world of engineering?

Alyssa: I don’t really follow anything on social media, but I do have a couple apps on my phone for general news. I follow the NY Times, LA times, and I have magazines sent to me from different professional societies I am a part of such as SWE, ASME and IISE.