After 20 years of professional experience in the aviation and aerospace industry, David S. Price knew that going back to school for a degree in engineering management would help take his career to a new level.
When Price was researching graduate school opportunities, he knew he needed a program that was flexible enough to fit with his job responsibilities. Price was working for Honeywell Aerospace. He had started his career there as a junior engineer designing navigation and guidance computers and satellite communication systems for airplanes. After a number of years, he had risen to the level of being the global site leader for all aerospace engineering activities in Russia and Central Europe. This role required him to live and work in the Czech Republic, where he built an aviation design center from the ground up, and did heavy travel to Russia to visit a key supplier.
“My experience in Europe taught me that I needed a global perspective on engineering,” Price said. “I already had an MBA and a master’s in project management, but after several years of interviewing and hiring PhD students for a research team, I realized I wanted to learn more about aerospace engineering, especially from a global business perspective.”
As luck would have it, just as Price was considering going back to school, Honeywell struck a deal with Purdue to give employees continuing education opportunities. Given Purdue’s well-established name in engineering education, Price thought earning a master’s –online – at Purdue would be a perfect fit.
“If you want to learn more about aerospace engineering, you have to go with the best,” Price said. “I don’t want to call it divine intervention, but when Honeywell struck that deal with Purdue, it seemed like a sign to me.”
Price chose Purdue because of its excellent engineering reputation and the number of opportunities Purdue’s online engineering programs provided to professional students. He enrolled in the online Interdisciplinary Master's in Engineering with a concentration in Engineering Management and Leadership.
“I received an excellent technical engineering education at Purdue, and I was also able to take courses in economics, business, and global policy,” Price said. “I imagined what a global career in aerospace would look like, and so those courses were very valuable. It was a great blend of hard and soft skills.”
Though Price was taking courses online, his professors made sure he had the same opportunities as on-campus students. In one of his engineering courses, the professor had online students work in teams with on-campus students. This gave online students the opportunity to feel more connected to the campus community, and it gave on-campus students a valuable lesson in collaborating virtually with people from across the country.
“I was in a different timezone than the on-campus students, but that never felt like a barrier to working on projects,” Price said. “I also had 20 years of industry experience, which is different from the traditional graduate student, so I think it was a valuable experience for the on-campus students as well -- learning from someone who had been in the industry for a long time.”
Price also appreciated how applicable class projects were to aviation and aerospace careers. One of the projects Price worked on involved working with the U.S Air Force to develop solutions to engineering problems. “It was an opportunity to do real research with a real customer and then deliver a real solution,” Price said.
Through completing Purdue’s program, Price had the opportunity to explore several topics that he had been interested in for a long time. The breadth of classes available allowed him to customize his studies around personal interests and career goals. When he graduated, he was able to use his new skills to expand his career horizons.
“I had always wanted to explore genetic algorithms, and with Purdue’s program I was able to experiment with that quite a bit,” Price said. “There are many things I took from my studies and eventually applied to my career, but getting a strong background in global business and economics was probably most influential in the long run.”
Today, Price works at General Electric Aviation as an engineering manager and as part of the engineering leadership team, overseeing several product lines and developing state-of-the-art flight management systems. By working to increase the precision of flight management systems, Price hopes to further improve safety of flight while also making it easier for mission-specific aircraft to complete, for instance, humanitarian missions.
“Say there’s an earthquake, and you want to drop pallets of food or medical supplies to victims. With our flight management systems, we figure out where the airplane needs to be in order to hit that landing zone with 95% accuracy,” Price said. Given the aircraft is moving in an air mass and must compute the wind direction and take into account how each type of parachute - round, square, rectangular, etc. - will fall through the air mass is no small computational feat and represents a beautiful combination of math, physics, and engineering all rolled into one.
Though Price enjoys being at the forefront of new and influential aviation technologies, he said that going back to school at Purdue showed him the importance of being a lifelong learner -- and his career as a graduate student may not be over yet.
“I am considering pursuing a PhD,” Price said. “There is always so much to learn in this field, new technologies and new business approaches that are changing the landscape all the time. And I think there’s always a lot to learn from working with young students. I want to understand the perspectives that kids today have on the industry and where it can go in the future.”
According to Price, the aviation and aerospace industry has changed dramatically since he graduated from Purdue’s program 9 years ago. Making an impact through his work has meant having to constantly evolve and adapt to the new methods, skills, and technologies that are pushing the industry forward.
“I think a lot about what kind of legacy I want to leave,” Price said. “The more I can give back to the aerospace industry, the stronger my legacy will be. Being a student has taught me that there’s always room to grow.”
Learn more about Purdue’s 100% online Interdisciplinary Master’s in Engineering with a concentration in Engineering Management and Leadership on the program’s webpage.
Writer: Rachel Barton, Technical Content Writer, Purdue Online, firstname.lastname@example.org