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Kiana Ross '01

Major: Economics
Company: The Aerospace Corporation
Title: Project Engineer
Field of Work: Engineering

What do you do?

I oversee the development of Mission Management for the "next generation" GPS program. Next generation GPS consists of all new satellites and an all new ground control system; it is meant to replace the existing GPS system we all use today. Mission Management is a very technically exciting area of GPS. For example, it includes things like the orbital mechanics package for flying the satellites and all of mission cryptography.

How did you become interested in your field?

I work in space systems research and development. I chose this field because it required skills in both computer science and mathematics (my two academic fields of study) and because it closely aligned with the sciences. Math and computer science have a wide range of applications, but for me it sounded like more fun to work with physicists and astrodynamicists than to work on Wall Street.

What, if any, additional education (degree, discipline, institution) have you earned?

MS in mathematics (University of Washington) and PhD in mathematics (University of Washington).

What skills are vital for success in your field?

In a nutshell, technical chops and communication skills. Being able to understand the mathematical underpinnings of algorithms, the software design decisions that drive system performance, and the system engineering principles that mitigate program risk are all essential. But being able to communicate these things clearly to your peers and to decision-makers (who are not necessarily technical) is equally important.

What experiences, internships, study, or previous jobs helped you get to your current position?

After graduating from UR with a degree in computer science, I worked as a software developer for Northrop Grumman for five years before going to graduate school. Having this ‘real world’ experience on my resume turned out to be as important to employers as the fact that I had a PhD! In industry, having practical experience is key.

What advice do you have for current students interested in your field?

Along the lines of my answer above, try to strike a balance (via internships, taking breaks between degrees to work in your field, etc.) between academic study and industry experience. Doing so will help you hone in on finding a career path that you truly enjoy. Your resume will also always be on the top of the pile.