Elvis Silva

Job Title

Advanced Systems Manager

Employer

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation

Location

Boulder, Colorado

Why did you decide to pursue an aerospace engineering degree?

Early on I had a proclivity for math and science. When I moved to the U.S. I didn’t speak English, so the only thing I could do really well was stuff that didn’t require language skills like math and science.

Describe your current position.

I help manage business development and engineering personnel to carry out capture plans and strategies—we produce solutions that meet our customers’ mission needs, and we conceptualize new innovative ideas that will change the industry and how things are done in it. Overall, the job is to manage development efforts, studies, and small programs to mature new concepts, technologies, and evaluate the feasibility of various architectures. 

What do you like most about your job? What do you find most challenging?

I think, as in any job, one of the things that sticks out the most are the people that I work with. Anything that you can achieve as a group is better than any task you achieve on your own. The thing that I find most challenging is not being able to work on everything at once. I’m always interested in the different aspects of satellites and you can only get so far into the details before you run out of time. 

If you participated in student projects and/or organizations, how did your experience in these groups help prepare you for your career?

When you take a class, you’re learning a certain aspect of physics or a scientific concept, but you’re not really learning how to tie it together until you’ve done some sort of student project. For example, when I was an undergrad I did the KC-135 project, also known as the vomit comet, and in that project, we went through a proposal phase, a preliminary design review, and all the cycles to build, test and execute the program itself. Doing that extracurricular activity gave me some appreciation for how it all comes together. I was able to conceptualize how all the my classes came together into a single project. 

Were you involved in any fellowships or internships?

Yes, not as an undergrad, but after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree I was able to get an internship going into graduate school with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory doing outer planet trajectory work. I had another internship the summer after that at the Aerospace Corporation performing launch vehicle trajectory guidance. 

Do you recommend any particular focus for students other than academics to improve themselves as potential candidates for jobs?

Focus on the long game. A lot of students get bogged down with what’s going on in their classes and how stressed they are with that one class. Remember why you’re in engineering to start with. Join projects, do extra-curricular engineering activities, network, and enjoy it.  This is what you love, right?!

Are there courses at UT you wish you had taken? If so, which ones and why?  

The new computational engineering undergraduate degree is filling a gap that I always thought needed to be filled in engineering. We’re making the transition from what I call traditional engineering, where you have the old engineers from the ‘70s doing things with pencils on graph paper, to using computers to solve engineering problems. I think it’s really important to provide students with a very firm understanding in computational engineering. How do you use computers to solve large scale engineering problems? It would have been interesting to take a course in that subject matter and learn how to better leverage the new tools in our society for next-level advanced engineering.

What is one piece of advice you have for current students?

In today’s industry environment, the word “leadership” is being thrown around very irresponsibly, I believe. At the end of the day, what the word “leadership” really means is that you are the type of person that takes responsibility of something; that you can show up and get it done. When you show that you can take responsibility at levels beyond just yourself into team environments and group settings, it shows an ability to take accountability beyond yourself. I think companies really look for that. I really look for that when I’m doing hiring and I think it’s a quality that really defines what kind of person or engineer or professional you’re going to become.

Do you have a favorite memory as a UT aerospace student?

Doing the KC-135 project, we had a deadline that we had to meet and one of the team members hadn’t finished his portion of the project. We all helped him finish, but in doing this, we fell behind schedule. We had to mail our proposal in before the next Monday. Since we didn’t have time to ship anything we ended up just jumping in our car at 4 a.m. and drove to Houston to hand deliver a proposal to NASA. I remember coming back to class that Monday, delirious, falling asleep. and just miserable. But, our proposal got accepted and we were selected as one of the teams to fly on the “vomit comet.” It was awesome!

List three things that most people don't know about you.

  1. I play Aussie Rules Football, though I’m not that good at it—I’m not an athlete!

  2. I’m an immigrant and my first language is Spanish.

  3. My grandpa was a coffee farmer in Nicaragua. I drink my family coffee every morning.

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ASE/EM Academy of Distinguished Alumni

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