To The Class of 2023
By Basil Hassan|May 2023
It’s that time of year when many students receive their degrees and move into the next phase of life. On behalf of the AIAA Foundation, congratulations! Class of 2023, we celebrate your achievements, and we acknowledge your hard work and perseverance to reach this milestone. It is our privilege to sponsor programs, fund scholarships, and present awards that have contributed to your educational experience.
I have enjoyed meeting many of you this year and hearing your excitement about the future. From meeting students competing in the rocket competition at Spaceport America Cup, to networking with a record number of students at the 2023 AIAA SciTech Forum, to hearing students present your research papers at the Region IV Student Conference – I continue to be impressed with the high caliber students who join AIAA. You give me great optimism about the future of our industry!
The Workforce Outlook
It’s always difficult to predict the future of hiring trends in the aerospace and defense (A&D) workforce. We look to data to help us anticipate what’s ahead for you. Last year, AIAA partnered with the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) to publish the 2022 Aerospace and Defense Workforce Study and learned that A&D companies continue to grapple with a talent shortage, especially for workers with engineering skills and those with strong digital capabilities (e.g., data, analytics, automation). What we also know is that you are perfectly positioned to join the A&D workforce and help these employers meet their staffing needs and deliver exciting products, services, and missions.
Take Advantage of Opportunities in Front of You
I’m sure you are receiving a lot of advice right now, but please allow me to add mine: Be open to the opportunities that have presented themselves to you. You may find your dream job right away. Or you may see different roles than you were originally seeking, especially during these recovery years after the pandemic. Perhaps pursuing a graduate degree is an option for you. Perhaps pursuing a role in an adjacent industry is an option for those of you who are not U.S. citizens. Some positions in A&D require being able to get a security clearance, which of course requires U.S. citizenship. In today’s job market, you may have multiple options.
If you hold an engineering or science degree, you have learned the fundamentals. These fundamentals will help you contribute in many areas, in many roles. They also give you the foundation to build upon if you continue your education to the next level.
Alternatives to a Dream Job
I learned a lot about making the most of the opportunities I saw during my time as a student at NC State University. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1988, then a master’s degree in 1990, and a doctorate in 1993. My focus during graduate school was the reemergent area of hypersonics, a field whose jobs were drying up by the time I finished in 1993. With the Cold War ending, employment in the A&D industry dropped off dramatically. I realized my dream job at NASA was not going to materialize. My future felt very uncertain. Yet, as a result of my studies, my undergraduate and graduate internships with NASA, and my experience writing technical papers for AIAA, I remained committed to learning the fundamentals and focusing on my future. I found a postdoctoral research position at Sandia National Laboratories and have been there ever since. Initially I worked in very different areas from my graduate training, but that foundation in the fundamentals contributed to my success. In the end, hypersonics made a comeback, and I had the opportunity to support NASA on the Space Shuttle Columbia accident investigation and as a reviewer for the Artemis Program!
AIAA Will Continue to Be Here for You
We know the value of connecting with others. Your AIAA membership has provided opportunities to network and learn through mentors, forum experiences, and your student branch. Moving to a Young Professional membership will be a great step along your AIAA journey from classroom to career, where you will have access to online courses, forums, books and journals, and so much more that will help advance and enrich your career. Once you land in your next role, I encourage you to connect with the local section to reconnect with your AIAA support system.
One of the best decisions I ever made was joining an AIAA technical committee. At the urging of a mentor, David Throckmorton, I joined the Thermophysics Technical Committee. That step has led to my long affiliation with AIAA, volunteering in leadership roles, serving as its president, and now chairing the AIAA Foundation. I encourage you to make a similar decision and stay involved with AIAA.
Seize the day!