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The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)

is the world's largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession.

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    Momentum Member Spotlight - June 2012

    Momentum Member Spotlight - June 2012

    AIAA Congratulates Dr. Paul Nielsen

    By: Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications

    Dr Paul Nielson at Podium 2012AIAA has selected AIAA Honorary Fellow, and past president, Dr. Paul D. Nielsen, for its Member Spotlight for June 2012. Dr. Nielsen is Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Software Engineering Institute (SEI), at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, PA. The Institute is focused on research and development in the field of software engineering, and serves the entire software engineering community.

    Nielsen has been responsible for the development and expansion of the Institute’s product suite, and has led growth in the Institute’s network and cyber security efforts. He has overseen growth in the Institute’s research activities in the areas of: software architecture, complex systems, and cyber-security, to address both current problems as well as future needs. Prior to joining SEI, Nielsen was a member of the United States Air Force, which he retired from as a Major General. During his service, he commanded the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and was also the Air Force’s technology executive officer, overseeing the Air Force’s investment strategy for its science and technology activities.

    Nielsen joined AIAA in 2002, and served as president of AIAA from 2007 to 2008. He was made an Honorary Fellow of AIAA in May, 2012. In addition to the honor of Honorary Fellow, Dr. Nielsen is the past recipient of the AIAA Aerospace Software Engineering Award in 2011, for his “leadership in the global software engineering community and for addressing the near and far term challenges of complex aerospace software.” He also is a past recipient of the 2002 AIAA Hap Arnold Award for Excellence in Aeronautical Program Management, for his “outstanding contributions to the restructuring of the Milstar satellite program, for an exemplary as Director of Plans for NORAD, and for visionary leadership of the Air Force Research Laboratory in these demanding times” He is the current chair of the Honors and Awards committee. In addition to being an AIAA Honorary Fellow, Nielsen is an IEEE Fellow, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

    Dr. Nielsen became inspired to enter the aerospace profession in the earliest days of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. He noted: “I was seven years old when Sputnik was launched. The excitement of the "space race" and President Kennedy's commitment to landing and returning a person from the moon certainly spurred me on. I addition I had an uncle that was an Air Force pilot that I greatly admired who made me first think about the Air Force.”

    Nielsen had greater difficulty identifying his favorite career moment, due to the length of his career and the multitude of experiences he had to pick from. He stated: “My career has been filled with so many wonderful moments that it is hard to pick one. I was in the Air Force for 32 years and that gave me so many opportunities--for education, for great jobs, for challenges beyond what I might have ever expected, for meeting and working with so many amazing colleagues.” But, he settled on a definitive moment at the start of his career, concluding: “I guess in many ways, my key moment was when I was 17 and decided to accept an appointment to the Air Force Academy. I set me up for all the opportunities and adventures that followed.”

    Nielsen’s outlook on the future of aerospace is definitely positive. When asked what that future might hold, he replied: “Aerospace has been an important motivator for young men and women to embark on wonderful careers in science and engineering--and it will continue to fill this role. The frontiers of aeronautics and space have a great attraction for the dreams and aspirations of our future leaders. The aerospace business has been a strong contributor to our economy and our balance of trade and has led to technology and innovation that has contributed so much to our quality of life. There is still a lot more to do in aerospace--pushing the boundaries of aeronautics and astronautics. It's still one of the most exciting careers a person can choose.”

    For those in college, pursuing an aerospace degree, Nielsen offered these words of encouragement: “Follow your passion. Do what you love. When you work in an area where you have a passion, it really isn't work, it's a joy. Be alert for those unforeseen opportunities that develop and be willing to take a chance or two that really stretches you. Have big goals and work hard to achieve them. Along the way, make good friends and enjoy the special camaraderie of the global aerospace community.” He offered similar advice to those in high school, who are thinking about entering college to pursue an aerospace degree, exhorting: “Go for it! Live your dream. Prepare yourself for an exciting career, a career that requires hard work, but rewards you with great satisfaction. Think about being part of the heritage of the Wright brothers, Goddard, von Braun and von Karman. Think about the more modern legacy of satellite builders, airplane and UAV designers, real rocket scientists and about the exploration and science they enable as we learn more about our universe and our planet.”

    Nielsen concluded the interview with these words about AIAA, and its importance to the aerospace community and profession: “Every aerospace professional should be a member of AIAA. It's one of those basic parts of being a professional. The conferences, the journals, the colleagues you'll make are all important parts of the AIAA experience. Every AIAA member has the same passion for our profession as the rest of the members. When you go to an AIAA conference, you may find yourself sitting next to an award winning professor, an astronaut, an industry CEO or CTO, a general or an admiral. And at that meeting we are all the same--colleagues with a passion for our profession who are trying to push the frontiers of science and technology. AIAA helps you develop a network of friends, collaborators, mentors that will make your career a richer life.”

    AIAA congratulates Dr. Paul Nielsen for his contributions both to AIAA and to the aerospace industry, as well as for his selection as the AIAA Member Spotlight for June 2012.