photo of Jill Meyers

Why did you decide to pursue an aerospace engineering degree?

I obtained my private pilot's license at age 17, but at the time wasn't sure what to do with it regarding a career! Back then (1970s), there were no role models for me of women in aviation or aerospace careers, so it didn't occur to me to pursue them. I joined the Air Force at age 19 and shortly after that the first Space Shuttle was launched. That was all it took for me to decide to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering.

Describe your current position.

I provide consulting services to aviation and aerospace organizations worldwide, helping them in areas such as engineering management, organizational development, program management, media and public relations, and aviation film consultation. I am also a public speaker on topics such as “The History and Future of Women in Aviation and Aerospace” and “Aerospace Engineering as a Career”.

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

Having my own consulting business is wonderful in that I have the opportunity to work with many organizations doing a variety of things in aviation and aerospace. Right now, for example, I am supporting several projects ranging from a client who is interested in starting an airline, to a non-profit organization working to grow the commercial space business in their entire state! The biggest challenge is the lack of consistent income as the contracts come and go throughout the year.

What are your career goals?

At this late stage of my career, I am focusing on sharing my expertise with organizations doing projects to help improve the lives of others. I also continue to spend a great deal of my time supporting non-profit organizations that help girls and young women pursue and excel in aviation and aerospace careers.

Which student projects / organizations were you involved with in ASE/EM? How did your experience in these groups help prepare you for your career?

AIAA and SWE. While at UT Austin, I was president of the university's Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Chapter for one year. Being a member of SWE and then leading the organization gave me a level of confidence in my networking and leadership skills, which are so very critical to career success.

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

Absolutely! First, it is so important for college students to join membership organizations that relate to their passions and career aspirations. This provides experience in networking, team building and leadership, which are so important in the workplace. Second, any opportunity to visit and/or work at companies in your industry of choice is helpful. This provides insight into what a job might be like, and also what different corporate cultures are like. And lastly, find a mentor! I feel strongly that finding a mentor to learn from and grow with is the number one thing young people can do in their career trajectory.

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

Since I was part of the Air Force program and had transferred to UT Austin with existing credits, I was only allowed to take courses that were required for my major. In addition, much of my prior coursework was tossed into the electives bucket (even classes like physics and calculus, as UT wanted me to retake them from their own professors), so I couldn't take any electives except Texas government and Texas history, required for graduation. This resulted in me having an incredibly intense schedule with almost all engineering classes every semester. I was envious of my classmates who were able to balance their schedule with classes in music or art, the two areas I would have added if able.

Why did you choose one track over the other (atmospheric/space)? Do you feel this has made any difference in your career?

Despite having obtained my private pilot's license at the age of 17, I chose astronautical engineering as my specialty over aeronautical engineering, as my goal was to either apply to the NASA Astronaut program or work on building and supporting spacecraft. After graduation I did work on satellites for several years, but then missed being around airplanes and migrated into positions supporting aircraft development. The difference it made in my career was providing me expertise in both the aero and astro side of aerospace engineering!

Who was your most influential ASE, COE or EM professor and why?

My most influential professor was Dr. John J. Bertin, who sadly passed away in 2008. Dr. Bertin was my aerodynamics professor, and here is the lesson I learned from him. I was doing really great in his class up until the final. One of the questions on the final was to derive the equation of motion for how air moved around the UT Austin football stadium. We had worked this problem over and over again and I knew it well. But for the first time in my life I froze on the final and couldn't remember a thing! It resulted in me getting a "D" in his class. The Air Force made me retake it, and afterwords Dr. Bertin came up to me and said, "If you ever need a letter of recommendation from me, just ask." I looked at him and said, "But I practically failed your class the first time - why would you do that for me?" Dr. Bertin replied, "I would never hire you to take a test for me, but I would hire you to work for me any day." This not only meant the world to me, but it helped me better understand how to set priorities in my life. R.I.P., Dr. Bertin.

What has been your most influential ASE, COE or EM course and why?

It would have to be orbital mechanics, which not only fascinated me greatly, but which helped me understand so much about spacecraft design in my career. (And also helps when watching amazing movies like "Interstellar"!) I will also note that I was sitting in my orbital mechanics class when the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred. Professor Victor Szebehely stopped the class to tell us, and we all left to find a television to watch the devastating news. Our class was asked by NASA to help with some of the data analysis during the early part of the investigation, which was extremely influential to me in learning how to deal with this kind of tragedy as a professional, and also learning how to work a significantly complex problem.

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

Find a mentor!! (see above)

Are you still working in the field of your degree? If not, why?

Although I am not doing hands-on engineering work anymore, my aerospace engineering degree is extremely helpful in understanding the work my clients are doing. Even when I progressed to high levels of management in companies later in my career, having the solid technical background helped me be a better manager of engineers and a better leader of technical programs.

Do you have a favorite memory as a UT ASE/EM student?

I have several, but one of my fondest memories was working on a senior project to design habitat modules for the International Space Station. Our class organized as a company and I was put in the job of developing the final layout drawings that would be presented to NASA upon completion of the class. I loved my engineering drawing class and although not really artistic, I had so much fun creating the large design boards! When the class ended, my "artwork" was put on display in the hallway of one of the engineering buildings, which made me feel very proud.

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

(1) I was a serious classical guitarist for most of my childhood.        

(2) In my first operational assignment with the Air Force, I was kind of bored with my job and did a volunteer assignment to keep my life more interesting. I volunteered with the military police on a training program where they would have me sneak into areas that were off limits, so they could see how long it took the officers to stop and arrest me. It was fun until I almost got killed one day, which is when they thanked me for my time and sent me back to my day job!        

(3) If possible, I would leave the industry and be a full-time travel photographer.