WiSE Feature Interview- Ashley Madni

How did you get started in the field of systems engineering?

My career as an Aerospace Systems Engineer had an unconventional start. Growing up, I always enjoyed math and science classes, and was fascinated by outer space. When it came time to decide on a University and Bachelor’s Degree program, I found Washington University’s Biomedical Engineering program incredibly interesting because it applied the principles of engineering, science and mathematics to develop technologies that had a positive impact on human life. However, during my Junior year, I realized that while the field of BME was fascinating, space exploration was my true passion that I wanted to work on every day. I was fortunate to be accepted to the NASA Ames Academy internship program that summer, and that experience solidified my desire to pivot into a career in aerospace engineering. After graduating from WashU, I completed my Master’s degree at CU Boulder in Aerospace Engineering Sciences, specializing in Bioastronautics, and learned about the field of systems engineering. I knew that this discipline would not only be most interesting to me, but also utilize my skillsets from my broad range of educational and research experiences that I had to date.

After graduating from CU Boulder, I accepted a position at Boeing in their Systems Engineering Rotation Program, where I worked as a systems engineer for the XS-1 Reusable Launch Vehicle and Crew Space Transportation (CST-100) programs. I had an incredible mentor who handed me the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook on Day 1 and taught me how to apply these systems engineering fundamental principles throughout a real and major project mission lifecycle. Now as a Systems Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), I continue to employ the systems engineering fundamental principles I’ve learned through my work on NASA’s Psyche Mission.

What do you find interesting or exciting about working in the field of systems science and systems engineering?

I love being a Systems Engineer on space exploration missions because there is always so much to learn and engage in! I enjoy the challenge of understanding technical details while keeping the larger picture of the integrated system in mind, balancing technical breadth and depth. My favorite work is interfacing between the mission scientists and engineers, helping translate science objectives into engineering requirements. Additionally, as a Systems Engineer, I get to tackle complex system level engineering change requests and trade studies, which involve leading interdisciplinary teams to arrive at a solution that adequately meets all stakeholders’ needs. It’s a great feeling when you see these final solutions come together to enable our mission’s success.

What advice do you have for those just starting out in the field of systems engineering?

Finding great mentors to teach and guide you throughout your career is important in setting you up for success in your career, knowing what future job opportunities are available, and continuing to engage in learning opportunities. I also encourage new systems engineers to say yes to growth opportunities to build up their technical and leadership toolset. The most successful systems engineers I look up to have a wide range of knowledge based on their collective experiences deep diving into technical areas throughout their careers. And last but not least, it’s important to foster strong relationships with your team because systems engineering relies on the contributions from each discipline to produce a successful and operable integrated system.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL/Caltech)
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Region 6 (Western U.S.)