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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Momentum Member Spotlight – February 2014

    AIAA Congratulates Ben Marchionna

    By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications

    Ben Marchionna

    The member spotlight swung west this month, falling on Lancaster, California, focusing on Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ Ben Marchionna, winner of AIAA SciTech’s inaugural Twitter contest in January.

    Marchionna, selected to be part of Lockheed Martin’s Engineering Leadership Development Program (ELDP), is currently on a rotational assignment as a Flight Test Engineer and Test Conductor for the F-35 program at Edwards Air Force Base, California, and will return to Skunk Works in 2015 for his final ELDP rotation. Prior to his selection in the ELDP program, Marchionna worked in aircraft design at Skunk Works. He has also worked as a systems engineer on the F-35 program at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth, Texas, and interned in systems engineering on the C-5M Super Galaxy program in Marietta, Georgia.

    The Lockheed Martin ELDP program allows selectees to take part in three one-year rotational assignments, and gives them substantial exposure to technical and business leaders across the corporation, as well as providing them with a graduate engineering education.

    Outside of work, Marchionna is the Chair of AIAA’s Antelope Valley Section, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Air Show.  He is also active on AIAA’s Public Policy and Young Professional Committees, and an associate member of AIAA’s Intelligent Systems Technical Committee. He is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Systems Architecting and Engineering at the University of Southern California.  He is a 2011 aerospace engineering graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan., and while in school, he was president of their AIAA student branch at the school. He also was very active as a research assistant in the Autonomous Aerospace Systems Laboratory and with the Solar Unmanned Aerial Vehicle design team. He remains very involved with the university as a member of the Industry Advisory Board for the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Marchionna lives in Lancaster, California, with his wife Katie and their American Eskimo dog, Norbet.

    While a lot of kids grow up playing “office” or “school,” Marchionna played “airline pilot:" “I’ve been intrigued by aerospace vehicles and technologies for as long as I can remember. Throughout elementary school, I wanted to be a commercial airline pilot – I’d pretend I was piloting a flight on the swings at recess, deploying flaps, extending my landing gear, and engaging thrust reversers as I jumped off the swing for a safe touchdown.” “...At home, I would set up the basement like an airline cabin and 'fly' my younger siblings on pseudo-journeys across the globe with my desktop flight simulator.” This interest progressed from youthful play to more serious endeavors as Marchionna relates “I later became interested in military aviation and engineering, founded a rocket club at my high school, and heard a riveting talk on life in space from former NASA astronaut Jack Lousma. All of these interests and experiences led me to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering.”

    Reminiscing about his favorite aerospace-related memories led Marchionna to underscore the importance of teamwork in our industry. “The aerospace industry relies on phenomenal teamwork and cooperation in nearly every aspect of a product’s life cycle. Being a part of these exceptional teams has been my most rewarding experience in the profession thus far. From watching the nearly one million pound C-5M Super Galaxy take off during my summer internship, to engaging in the incredible ingenuity and design prowess at the Skunk Works, to feeling the sonic boom at Edwards AFB during an F-35 flight test mission, it is so very remarkable what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit.”

    For those students in college and who are thinking about an aerospace career, Marchionna opined that success in aerospace is really about a person putting in the maximum degree of effort and work necessary to succeed while also having a solid foundation of ideas about what they want do and where they want to end-up in their careers, as well as having the will to continually expand their comfort zones. “As a recruiter for Lockheed Martin, I often meet college students who are eager to enter the aerospace industry, but haven’t put in the effort necessary to earn their dream jobs. The most important rule is to work hard – without solid grades, recruiters are powerless to act. Beyond getting good grades, start setting yourself up for success. Ask yourself three questions: Where do you want to go? How will you get there? And what can you do now to prepare? Set your goals. Develop a strategy. And take action. Those three simple steps will get you thinking critically about how you can land your dream job before you graduate. While you’re in school, be sure to get out of your comfort zone. The more you push your boundaries now, the more your comfort zone (and confidence) will grow, before it cements itself later in life. Finally, take advantage of AIAA and all of the opportunities it offers!”

    For high school kids thinking about pursuing aerospace in college, Marchionna urged them to become involved with activities that allow “hands-on” engineering and planning opportunities: “Work hard in high school to get into the best college engineering programs. Join hands-on teams like FIRST robotics and rocket clubs – or start one if there isn’t one. Take a tour of a college aerospace engineering department and ask if you could be mentored by an undergraduate student. Build model rockets, fly R/C airplanes, dream about going into space. Feed your passions. Explore what intrigues you!”

    Marchionna had this advice for his peers in aerospace who may be wondering how to get ahead and make the most of their careers – the real answer? Networking! “First, make sure you have written down a career development plan. Start by asking yourself: Where do I want to be in 20 years? Then work backward. To achieve your 20-year goal, where will you need to be in 10 years and what skills do you need to develop now to reach that goal? Keep going until you reach your current position. You can’t get where you want to go if you don’t know where you’re going. Once you’ve done this, start closing the gap! Go and create opportunities for yourself – don’t expect the next golden opportunity to fall in your lap. And don’t be afraid to fail or make decisions. Believe in your vision. Have a mentor and be a mentor. Get involved with AIAA! Oh, and networking is the key to your future success. Period.”

    Marchionna’s last piece of advice had to do with how older members and colleagues can help young professionals, namely by taking an interest in them. “Reach out to young professionals! We are eager to learn and know that you have had a treasure trove of amazing experiences. Invite us out to dinner and share those stories with us. Many young professionals are simply afraid to ask. That simple act could easily be the inflection point for a young professional who feels overwhelmed by an industry known to value years of experience over youthful passion. Take them under your wing. They’ll remember you for the rest of their lives. I guarantee it.”

    Our talk concluded with a discussion of social media – which seemed fitting, given that Marchionna recently won AIAA’s inaugural Twitter contest as part of the SciTech 2014 Forum – a stunning feat for a self-admitted novice Tweeter. Marchionna thinks that social media not only provides AIAA with an effective means of getting our message out, but can also serve to united members in ways not previously possible: “Social media, implemented and incentivized properly, has the potential to disseminate large amounts of information from AIAA conferences and events to humongous audiences across the globe. Being able to share aerospace knowledge with such reach is extraordinary. I had never tweeted before SciTech this year. Three days later, I had sent 330+ original, substantive tweets – enough to win the contest. But I also ended up meeting a handful of fellow Tweeters during the conference that I would not have met otherwise. Social media is a great way for young professionals to share their passion for aerospace with a wide audience. Most important, that shared content could be enough to convince friends at home that they should consider attending future AIAA conferences.”

    AIAA congratulates Ben Marchionna for his success in the Twitter contest and for his contributions to aerospace and AIAA. We wish him the best of luck on the completion of his studies and the ELDP program, and congratulate him on his selection as the February Member Spotlight!