Spotlight on Engineering Alumni: Jeanette Quinlan
Name: Jeanette (Neri) Quinlan
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, University of Rochester, 2005.
Current city/state of residence: San Francisco, CA
Job Title: Thermal Engineer
Employer: Space/Systems Loral
Family: Husband: Michael (B.S. Chemistry 2005, M.S. Chemistry 2007, Ph.D. Nuclear Chemistry 2011 – all at UR)
Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?
I chose the University of Rochester in large part because it offered the opportunity to take classes outside of my major (like psychology and history) with people who were actually in that major, unlike at some of the engineering schools I had applied to. Also, the cluster curriculum let me study a particular subject in more depth than if I were taking just a few core classes elsewhere.
When and how did you choose your major?
I was in the Mechanical Engineering department from the beginning of my freshman year. As a young girl, I always wanted to be an astronaut. The engineers had the job at Space Camp of “fixing the satellite in orbit.” I felt that Mechanical Engineering was the broadest of the engineering disciplines and would let me pursue a variety of careers should the astronaut pool be competitive (or non-existent like it is now).
What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?
I was very involved in the Ballet Performance Group, including serving as the Vice President my junior year and President the first semester of my senior year. We put on one large show each semester, performed in several small performances throughout the year, and participated in other campus events. It took a lot of work to organize all of those events and people, and it taught me valuable leadership skills. Also, it was a creative release from engineering, and my college experience wouldn’t have been the same without that group. I also did work study at the Laser Lab during my last two years as an undergraduate. My tasks included creating a 3-D CAD representation of the architectural drawings for the new facility for the Omega EP laser. The CAD was intended to help figure out how key components of the facility would fit through the I-beams once they were in place. I’ll never forget going onto the construction site and seeing how large these I-beams looked compared with the tiny drawings on my screen. The importance of going onto the assembly floor and seeing first-hand what you’re modeling on a computer screen is something that is very fundamental to my job today.
What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?
During the summers following my sophomore and junior years of college, I interned at a company outside of Pittsburgh that makes large industrial power cabinets. I worked with the only mechanical engineer there who was primarily a thermal engineer but also did all of the structural and vibration analysis at the company. Thermal engineering made a lot of sense to me, and I decided I would be happy pursuing it as a career. I couldn’t wait to get into the working world after graduating. Before my second semester of senior year began, I accepted a position as a Thermal Engineer at ITT Industries in Rochester, NY. Formerly a division of Kodak, they build electro-optical satellites that orbit the earth. I finally fulfilled my ambition of working in the space industry.
What do you do now, and why did you choose this career?
After about 5 1/2 years at ITT, I applied to Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, CA, which makes commercial communications satellites. I have been at my new company for over a year now continuing to work as a Thermal Engineer. My group is responsible for designing and building hardware that will help to reject the heat dissipated in the satellite to space, testing the satellite user vacuum conditions at various temperatures, and predicting on-orbit temperatures through analysis, among other tasks. I learned many of the fundamentals of analyzing satellites at my first job and have been able to apply that knowledge to my new company, while still coming up to speed on a new technology, orbit, analysis program, and approach to satellite building.
What advice do you have for current students?
Enjoy the experience of being an undergraduate, and take advantage of all of the extracurricular activities while you can. If you can find an internship or academic summer program in your field, I think you can gain insight and perspective into how the fundamentals that you learn in class are applied outside of the classroom.