Employee Spotlight

The following associates were featured in Diversity/Careers magazine. Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology is published eight times each year by Renard Communications, Inc. Subscriptions are available at no charge to qualified readers.

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a project engineering specialist at Aerojet Rocketdyne

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke a “military brat,” spent most of her childhood moving from place to place. While she was at college at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN) her parents relocated once again, this time to the Washington, D.C. area. On her next summer break, Cooke moved back home and took an internship with in Gainesville, VA with Aerojet Rocketdyne (Sacramento, CA).

Cooke has worked for Aerojet Rocketdyne since she received her BS in chemical and biomedical engineering in 1984.  “I grew up loving math and science,” she reports. “I had a strong interest in biology when I was in high school, which is why I thought I’d like biomedical engineering. Then I realized I probably wouldn’t have an easy time getting a job in that, so I doubled my major in my junior year.”

Her current job at Aerojet Rocketdyne is project engineering specialist in the design engineering department. “We’re responsible for putting customer requirements together to come up with a design that meets all the technical and performance requirements,” she explains. “As project engineer, I’m the single-point contact with the customer and the program manager. I also lead the engineering team.”

She also works with the manufacturing side of the business on a rocket system production program. Rocket design and mechanical engineering most typically go together, but Cooke says ChE [Chemical Engineering] is also vital to developing and managing rocket propellants. “My first years at Aerojet Rocketdyne I was in propellant development, and I learned all about the ingredients that go into making propellant. Then I worked in manufacturing engineering, which I loved because it’s hands-on. I made propellant mixes, and we also developed liners and adhesives systems. The chemical engineering background has been very helpful.”

Compliments of Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology
April/May 2012 edition page 38

Kimberly Austin

Kimberly Austin is a senior systems engineer at Aerojet Rocketdyne

Kimberly Austin“I was the baby in a family of seven but I was the first to go to college and graduate,” says Kimberly Austin. “It put added pressure on me, but I rose to the occasion and even motivated my sisters to go back to school and get their degrees.”

Today Austin is a senior project engineer at Aerojet Rocketdyne (Sacramento, CA). Most of her time is spent working with customers and team members to develop hardware and software requirements for rocket propulsion systems. Most of her career at Aerojet Rocketdyne she’s supported the Standard Missile 3 program. ”Understanding customer needs and translating them into requirements are key elements of systems engineering, and that’s what I do,” she says.

True to the multifaceted responsibilities of a systems engineer, Austin also coordinates the selection of optimized concept baselines through cost/benefit analysis; she identifies project risk and reports on the results of mitigation plans. Her oral and written presentations are critical to her program’s success.

As a kid in Garyville, LA, Austin taught herself to use a computer that belonged to one of her older siblings, “That was what triggered my interest in engineering,” she says. “The other kids were a lot older so I was playing by myself. My brother sent me a computer once and I took it apart and put it back together. After that I said, ‘That’s what I’m going to go to school for!’”

Austin went to Southern University (Baton Rouge, LA) where she got her BSCS in 2000. She had a job waiting for her at Web hosting provider Data Return (Irving, TX), a company she met through a career fair.

In 2001, Austin made the move to California to join Lockheed Martin, another company she had interviewed with in college, as a software engineer. “It was really cool because I was able to rotate through different parts of the company. Once I got to see what systems engineers do, I really liked it,” she says. I wanted to meet customers, interface with different groups, understand their disciplines and bring everything together.”

After four years Austin joined Aerojet Rocketdyne. Now married and a new mother, she wanted to be closer to her family. “I had never really worked with other disciplines so closely, and I was taken to this new realm of learning. It’s been great ever since. I love the technical side of the business and I love what I’m doing now,” systems engineering,” she says.

Eventually Austin wants to get an advanced degree and go into teaching. “I want to go into neighborhoods where there isn’t a lot of engineering being taught to kids and show them there are other career paths out there they can explore.

“I didn’t grow up in the best of areas but I made the most of what I had and I’d like to give some of that back.”

Compliments of Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology
December/January 2011/2012 edition page 35

The following associate was featured in NSBE Magazine's Premier Profile section. Published 3x per year, NSBE Magazine offers regular sections and exciting feature articles of interest in a variety of engineering and technology disciplines.

Jerome Brown

Jerome Brown is an engineering manager at Aerojet Rocketdyne

Stoking the Engines at Aerojet Rocketdyne- by Siobhan Leftwich

Jerome Brown’s first memories are of the late 1960s, when TV shows about astronauts and space exploration — not to mention space-related products such as Tang— were as numerous as today’s reality shows. There was I Dream of Jeannie, Lost in Space, Star Trek, and Land of the Giants — not to mention actual trips to the moon by astronauts. So maybe it’s not surprising that Brown landed at Aerojet Rocketdyne: a major, Sacramento, Calif.-based space and defense contractor that specializes in missile and space propulsion, defense and armaments.

“I loved Star Trek when I was a kid,” says the Concord, Calif., native, now 48. But this engineer in the making had no desire to be the starship captain. “I wanted to be Scotty, tinkering down in the engine.”

Brown’s interest in all things technical came naturally. His father, a computer scientist, brought old computer tapes home for his kids to play with.

Jerome Brown

“I amused myself for hours with those tapes,” he recalls. But it wasn’t until 8th grade that he realized how much he enjoyed designing and building things, from the ground up.

“I took drafting on a whim. And I was passionate about it. I did all my homework before I even got out of school. I still have the triangle T-bar set at my parent’s home,” he says, laughing.

Brown went on to earn an electrical engineering degree, with an emphasis on computer engineering, from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Today, he manages the engineering design group responsible for creating Aerojet Rocketdyne’s machine intelligent control systems. He also manages the engineering development laboratory facility that produces electronic product prototype development and test system manufacturing.

Brown says his college internships were gamechangers in his career. “…I interned at Lockheed, thanks to a computer engineering professor who recommended me. I interned with them for two summers and ended up working there for 18 years,” he says. “I realize there is a lot of pressure (on) engineering students to just get through school, but I advise students to diversify — join a club, take a computer science class, get projects from companies, and learn about product development before you enter industry.”

He also urges college students to enroll in public speaking classes and take advantage of groups like NSBE and IEEE.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne hires interns every  summer,” he says. “We look for students who are inquisitive, confident, ambitious and who bring drive and passion to their work.” In return, Aerojet Rocketdyne interns can look forward to working on real projects with seasoned engineers. “Our interns definitely hit the ground running,” he says.

Brown says Aerojet Rocketdyne is also committed to growing its employees.

“Our engineers have long tenures. We truly believe in ongoing career development here,” he says, and notes that Aerojet Rocketdyne engineers receive external and internal training, educational benefits and other resources that will help them develop and expand their skills. In addition, he says, the company is committed to creating a friendly, family-like environment.

Although he relishes serving as a mentor to professional and student engineers, the father of three is a hands-on guy at heart. Whether it’s coaching his son’s basketball team, rafting beautiful Northern California rivers or going to the ballpark with his wife to watch their beloved San Francisco Giants, Brown likes to be at the center of the action. And as an engineer at Aerojet Rocketdyne, he’s there.

“The most fulfilling part of my job is when a rocket fires, and it works,” he says. “Nothing compares to watching that rocket go off. There’s that 20-second turn, and exhilaration. Yeah, test completion is pretty nice.”

Compliments of National Society of Black Engineers Magazine
Convention 2013 edition page 16