Even with shift to virtual format, YPAC still insightful

Since 2014, the Young Professionals Advisory Council has facilitated discussions with faculty and staff in AAE with the goal of benefitting undergraduate students.

Since 2014, a group of alumni has been selected to return to campus to facilitate discussions with faculty and staff in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics with the goal of benefitting undergraduate students.

But, as with all events since March 2020, there was a twist to the latest Young Professionals Advisory Council: Meetings were held virtually over two days in late October, both capped with virtual panels hosted by AAE student organizations.

Though alumni would have liked to have been back in West Lafayette, many were thankful to still have the opportunity to reconnect with faculty and staff, “meet” new people in both, and participate in meaningful discussions.

The exact thing keeping them away, the COVID-19 pandemic, was a popular topic of conversation, as YPAC members learned how AAE has adapted.

Jeffrey Stuart

“I am always impressed how the Purdue faculty and staff work so diligently to continually improve the student experience and curriculum,” said Jeffrey Stuart, whose bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. are from AAE. “It’s trite to say ‘in these unprecedented times,’ but the faculty and staff are clearly working hard to provide students with the best quality education that they can, given the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

Heather Wiest, who earned her master’s and Ph.D. degrees from AAE, also was impressed with AAE’s response to teaching amid the pandemic.

“It was interesting to hear about the ways AAE professors are adjusting their courses and student interactions due to the pandemic. Industry and academia seem to have similar struggles, so it was helpful to compare and contrast strategies for connecting virtually,” said Wiest, a mechanical engineer and part of the Launch Facilities Development group at Blue Origin’s Orbital Launch Site in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Stuart and Wiest were among seven alumni in YPAC in 2020, representing a wide range of aerospace fields and companies, in industry and government. The group also included Virgin Orbit’s Pau Pineda Bosque, the only repeat YPAC member, Boeing’s Alvin Chang, Virgin Galactic’s Jane Kinney, Northrop Grumman’s Alex Mastrean and SpaceX’s Bogdan Pavlov.

They held virtual meetings with William Crossley, the J. William Uhrig and Anastasia Vournas Head of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a variety of professors in different research areas. Associate Head for Undergraduate Education Karen Marais talked about AAE’s undergraduate education and curriculum, and YPAC members also met with undergraduate advisors and alumni relations representatives. One panel was hosted by Purdue’s AIAA chapter and the other by Purdue Space Program.

Heather Wiest

The panels were appreciated by YPAC members, as they allowed them to speak directly to AAE students. Stuart said his main message was for students to value the opportunity to be at Purdue and in AAE, and he reminded them coursework may seem frustrating at times, but it really does prepare them for success in industry or future academic pursuits.

He said Purdue has a great reputation across the aerospace industry because of the highly capable and motivated students that come out of the program, so he reminded faculty to “keep the students as your primary focus in the years ahead.”

Wiest enjoyed the student questions ranging from how to approach interviews to what companies are looking for in candidates to YPAC members’ favorite courses at Purdue. She relayed to the students how extensive and supportive the community of AAE alumni is in the aerospace industry and encouraged them to reach out and network.

After the two days, Stuart and Wiest were energized and impressed at the work being done in AAE — and eager to see what’s ahead.

“Even with the pandemic, Purdue AAE is continuing to grow in enrollment and unique research opportunities,” Wiest said. “The professors are very committed to ensuring a high quality education as the number of AAE students increases.”

Said Stuart, “I believe that AAE is on the right trajectory to keep Purdue at the forefront of the growing and evolving aerospace industry.”