AIAA Member Spotlight – March 2018 Written 15 March 2018

AIAA Profiles AIAA Fellow Nancy Andersen

By Michele McDonald, AIAA Communications Manager 

Some of the first steps in AIAA Fellow Nancy Andersen’s aerospace engineering career started with grade school math competitions and science projects.

AIAA Fellow Nancy Andersen.

“I always had a curiosity for how things worked, and I loved to build things,” said Andersen, who is Chief of AIAA’s Integration and Outreach Division (IOD) and a member of the Council of Directors (COD). “And I specifically recall telling a sixth-grade classmate, very confidently, that I was going to work for NASA!” 

That curiosity continues to fuel Andersen’s current work as a senior systems engineer at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), as an integral volunteer leader at AIAA, and across a career path that has woven in and out of the aerospace industry. Her career path is a great example to new aerospace professionals about where their experience can take them and how they can contribute to the aerospace community through professional organizations such as AIAA.

“When I started my career as an aerospace engineer, my skills and affinities leaned toward leading people and tasks, which then led to systems engineering and program management,” Andersen explained. 

Andersen enjoying one of her favorite pasttimes: scuba diving. Click image to see a larger version.

But an assignment opened up in 2008 – in the field of security – where she was asked to lead the Navy’s Nuclear Weapons Security (NWS) Program for Lockheed Martin. The role connected Andersen with talented JHU APL subject-matter experts and led to being hired at the prestigious lab in a systems engineering role supporting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“My career happened to lead me from the aerospace community to the CBP community,” Andersen noted. “However, systems engineering and program management skills can be applied to all types of technologies and industries, and so here I am now in a completely different domain.” 

Andersen’s professional side has informed her volunteer roles at AIAA and vice versa. Among her many AIAA leadership roles, Andersen was chair of the Engineering and Technology Management Group (ETMG) from 2014 to 2017 and was highly involved in leading the Complex Aerospace Systems Exchange (CASE) content within the AIAA forums. CASE provides a forum for addressing cross‐discipline systems engineering topics associated with complex aerospace systems. 

“I continue to remain very active within AIAA because I see the value in awareness and communication across industries regarding techniques, applications, and solutions,” said Andersen, who joined AIAA in 1989 as an aerospace engineering undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati and was part of AIAA’s recent governance restructuring. “This is one of the things with CASE that we emphasize – including perspectives from other industries and disciplines, which result in a more thorough experience, outcome, and product for the participating AIAA members.” 

Andersen was nominated and selected for the newly created role of Integration and Outreach Division Chief. “I hope to grow the membership by cultivating professional interests of members encompassing cross-discipline integration/programmatic and societal interface/ outreach activities of the Institute,” she said.

Andersen tries on a spacesuit. Click image to see a larger version.

It’s an approach that’s especially useful when transformative and disruptive technologies appear. Andersen is attuned to what’s next for the industry. 

“What immediately comes to my mind are technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), quantum computing, immersive computing, and autonomous vehicles,” she explained, adding there are many more. “As a systems engineer, I excitedly embrace these technologies and the capabilities and possibilities they bring, but I also have to acknowledge the potential unintended consequences and vulnerabilities that come with them.” 

Andersen has drawn upon her extensive systems engineering and program management know-how during the past few years at JHU APL where she has supported the CBP Office of Field Operations, CBP U.S. Border Patrol, Domestic Nuclear Detection Organization, and National Institute of Justice. 

“In my current role, supporting the CBP Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS) Upgrade Program, I get to work side-by-side with the Agents in the field, identifying and deploying technologies to help them most effectively accomplish their mission,” she said. While at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Andersen worked on or led such diverse programs as Nuclear Weapons Security (NWS), Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV), a weather satellite proposal, Fleet Ballistic Missile, Reentry Body Systems Applications, and Payload Launch Vehicle. 

“Every one of these assignments had their own set of challenges and rewards, and each afforded me the opportunity to build an experience base that has served me well,” she observed. “MKV was especially exciting because I led the team to develop the carrier vehicle for a midcourse interceptor concept, testing conceptual performance capabilities such as an advanced seeker, a very large divert and attitude control system (DACS), engagement management algorithms, and a demonstrated hover capability.”

To Young Professionals

AIAA can help aerospace professionals attain their goals.

Nancy Andersen
Andersen enjoying another one of her favorite pasttimes: snowboarding. Click image to see a larger version.

“Specifically, for young aspiring aerospace engineers, AIAA is an excellent resource to draw upon throughout your career, from being a part of Regional Conferences, to joining technical and/or integration and outreach committees, to presenting and publishing national-level papers, to networking, to gaining knowledge from colleagues,” she explained. “The products and services that AIAA provides is vast; it is only limited by the motivation of the member and how involved they want to be.” 

If joining a renowned organization such as JHU APL is a goal, “thirst for knowledge and expanding your skills set is an attribute that is highly valued and promoted at JHU APL,” she added. 

“I would recommend that young aspiring aerospace engineers strive to become an expert in their discipline, but also develop breadth and leadership skills,” Andersen continued. “Take advantage of opportunities outside of work and academia that round out your experiences. Whether it’s volunteering your time, participating in sports, mentoring individuals, joining a club, or community outreach, taking the initiative in being a part of these types of activities will teach you valuable skills that can translate into that extra something that gets you hired or has leadership selecting you for the next exciting assignment.”

Increase Diversity in Aerospace Community by Building STEM Outreach in Grade School

“I think science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) initiatives and activities are vital in exposing women and underrepresented groups to the aerospace field. I believe STEM excitement should be ignited early in the educational process, for example in grade school, and the enthusiasm maintained throughout high school and college. … One way to accomplish this is to facilitate corporate-educator relationships at various educational levels. This would allow students of all ages to learn real-world skills and applications from industry experts, invigorating and maintaining the excitement through high school and eventually college.”

In Her Spare Time 

"I really enjoy cooking, snowboarding, gardening, scuba diving, and volunteering. Cooking allows me to be creative, snowboarding is athletically demanding and really fun, gardening teaches me patience and provides beauty, scuba diving is just amazing and peaceful, and volunteering allows me to give a little back to the community where I live. My husband and I enjoy traveling, which allows us the opportunity to see remarkable places around the world. We like to alternate between ski/snowboarding trips, do-nothing-on-the beach trips, cultural trips, and visiting family and friends trips.”