Charles Cochran, a Project Manager on the Traffic [...]
How does a little girl who always dreamed of being an astronaut end up as a civil engineer? For someone who loves math, problem-solving and innovative thinking, it was a natural transition!
I attended Auburn University and received a Bachelor’s of Aerospace Engineering. I thought it would be the closest thing to take me into space, something I’d dreamed of since dressing up for career day in elementary school in a custom-made, aluminum foil spacesuit designed by my mother. I was completely fascinated by the solar system and anything involving space flight. So aerospace engineering seemed like an obvious choice at the time.
I was excited to study what people often think of as “rocket science.” The association is somewhat accurate. As with all engineering disciplines, there are different facets to aerospace engineering. The design and development of rockets and other space vehicles is just one type of aerospace work, referred to as astronautics. Aerospace engineering also includes aircraft, helicopters, missiles and weapons, etc., which is referred to as aeronautics.
I loved my time in school. In particular, I enjoyed applying some of the aerodynamics principles that we were studying in a lab setting. For several classes we used a wind tunnel to simulate flight conditions for airplanes and other objects, which was very interesting to me. I also had the privilege of taking a Space Flight Design course under Colonel Jim Voss, an astronaut and veteran of five spaceflights. It was really neat to study under someone who had actual experience in space.
Eventually I started focusing on what I wanted to do when I finished school. As much as I was intrigued by the aerospace field, I could not picture myself working in the industry when I got out of school. After many conversations with teachers, advisors and other mentors, I decided to stick with my major since I’d been working so hard on it. I knew that I wanted to work in engineering. I just had to figure out exactly which branch would be best for me.
After graduation, I began the process of submitting resumes and sent one to a company in Atlanta, URS Corporation. I like to say they took a chance on me and I took a chance on them, not really knowing what lied ahead! I began working as a designer in site engineering at that time.
I learned so much my first year and loved it! I eventually moved to Birmingham, began working at Sain Associates, and obtained my Professional Engineering license. It might sound a little strange for someone with an aerospace engineering degree, but many of the core engineering principles are the same across the board, and a solid foundation in those principles is important for any engineering field. Both branches require strong oral and written communication skills, which I use every single day. Innovative thinking and problem-solving skills are also a critical components of each engineering branch and critical to my job on a daily basis.
After a few years in the site engineering department at Sain, I transitioned to traffic engineering where I feel that I have found my niche. While it took a good bit of time, I love to think about the path that led me here and helped to make me the person I am today. I absolutely love having a job that I am truly passionate about, and I just have to laugh every time someone makes a joke about how “it’s not rocket science!”
Sain Associates, Inc., is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, with offices in Pulaski, Tennessee and Mandeville, Louisiana. Sain is a site engineering, traffic/transportation engineering and planning and land surveying firm with experience in more than thirty states.