Aero 285 Holds “Culture in Careers: Changing the Face of Aerospace” Panel

Aero 285 Holds “Culture in Careers: Changing the Face of Aerospace” Panel featuring Ellen Chang, Dr. Kevin Michaels, Tia Sutton, and Tony Waas.

Last Friday, Aerospace 285 welcomed Ellen Chang, Dr. Kevin Michaels, Tia Sutton, and our own Richard A. Auhll Department Chair and Felix Pawlowski Collegiate Professor, Tony Waas, for the “Culture in Careers: Changing the Face of Aerospace” panel, moderated by Graduate Student Instructor Kaelan Oldani. We welcomed these speakers as part of Professor George Halow’s Aero 285 on Fridays, in which every week prominent figures in the aerospace industry visit and speak to the class. 

Each with their own unique career path and experiences, the speakers discussed the intricacies of professional life after aerospace academia, particularly the challenge of navigating towards a fitting career.

students in aero 285
Professor Halow introduces the speakers of the “Culture in Careers: Changing the Face of Aerospace” panel.

Ellen Chang spoke on her experience working as an engineer in the Navy, then using the knowledge she gained to later work at BMNT Partners, where she now leads the companies Navy supporting programs of national security innovation. Dr. Kevin Michaels detailed his efforts as the Founder and Managing Director of AeroDynamic Advisory, an aerospace consulting firm servicing hundreds of leaders in aerospace and aerodynamics across the globe. Tia Sutton, the Vice President of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, reflected on her passion for the environment. She has dedicated her career to improving and protecting sustainability in engineering through her work as an EPA regulatory engineer and later as a Legislative Fellow to Senator Carl Levin on Capitol Hill, working on energy and environment issues. Finally, our own Tony Waas spoke about his work as the head of the department. Specifically, he discussed the positive changes he’s witnessed in both aerospace students and professionals over the years, and the commitments being made in aerospace towards diversity, equity, and inclusion.

speaker addressing students
Dr. Kevin Michaels speaks about his experiences working in the aerospace consulting industry while he sits next to panelists Ellen Chang, Tia Sutton, and Tony Waas.

While all of our guests had extremely unique career paths, some common messages resonated throughout the lecture. All agreed on the strength of having the ability to not only communicate with a team, but listen and realize that everyone can have valuable input on a project. The panelists cited numerous examples, during both their time in school and after, where the best project results were produced collaboratively, and especially in highly diverse settings with engineers of a multitude of backgrounds. All agreed that internalizing this truth and bringing it to work with you each day is what will truly push innovation forward within aerospace engineering. 

Another point of emphasis was the benefit of possessing patience as an engineer. They stressed how difficult it can be to find the right career after college and the nearly inevitable reality that most students will try their hand in a few industries before finding the perfect fit, as was the case of all of our panelists. Dr. Michaels cited an old adage to hit home this point:

There’s the three circles of jobs. Jobs you’re good at. Jobs you’re passionate about. And jobs at which you can make enough money to support yourself. If you have a job that satisfies two of those, you’re in the lucky 10% of people. If you have all three, then you’re in the 1%.

Dr. Kevin Michaels
To which Professor Waas replied, “I guess I’m in the 1%!”

Thank you so much to Ellen Chang, Dr. Kevin Michaels, Tia Sutton, and Professor Tony Waas for taking the time to speak with Aero 285, and special thanks to Kaelan Oldani for moderating!

The Aero 285 speaker series is one element of a leadership and professionalism thread Professor Waas and Professor Halow are instituting the to deliver the Michigan Difference in aerospace engineering education. 


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Michigan Aerospace Engineering

Communications Team