Megan Harrington

Megan Harrington

Title
Mechanical Engineer
Organization
Lockheed Martin / NASA
Location
MS, United States
Megan Harrington
Ask a Question:
Required field
Please note
Due to the unexpectedly large volume of questions being submitted to the Ask an Engineer program, it may take as many as 3 months or more for a response to your question to be posted. Please review previous questions and answers to see if your question may have already been addressed.
Enter the code shown: (only upper case)

Biography
I'm a mechanical engineer and I work with a team of talented engineers at our country's largest rocket testing facility, NASA's Stennis Space Center. Right now, we are preparing to test the rocket engines that will power NASA's next heavy-lift launch vehicle, the "Space Launch System," or "SLS." These engines are the "RS-25" and the "J-2X," which will power the SLS' first stage and second stage, respectively. The SLS will be the largest launch vehicle ever built and will be more powerful than the Saturn V rocket that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon!
Education
Master of Engineering Science (focus: Aerospace); Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Minor in Mathematics
  • I am willing to serve as a sponsor or coach for an engineering club or team.
  • I am willing to serve as science fair judge or other temporary volunteer at a local school.
  • I am willing to be interviewed by interested students via email.
Answers by Ms. Megan Harrington

Hi Kelly!

First off, high five for taking the first steps towards achieving your goal. Secondly, and to answer your question, heck no, your career plan is not ludicrous! That's not to say it won't be challenging, but that's a true statement for anyone pursuing a degree in engineering (or any technical science), no matter your background or starting point. Everyone has to begin somewhere! 

One of my favorite life stories is of a guy from southern California who didn't particularly like math or science, so he went to college to study music. He dropped out shortly after starting college, started a band, and really wasn't succeeding with his band or any side jobs. Then one night, driving in between gigs, he looked up and a constellation caught his eye. After some time, he noticed it had moved and he was curious as to why. He saved up some money and enrolled in an astronomy class at a local community college to learn more about the stars. That sparked more curiosity. However, he needed some prerequisite classes to continue, so he enrolled in those classes and continued bouncing around from class to class until that led him to full-time student status and attending a local university...and eventually, achieved a degree in mechanical engineering. And then he achieved another degree. And another. This guy had a late start and is famously known as the development manager and phase lead for JPL's Mars Curiosity rover's Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) engineering feat...the "Sky Crane." His name is Adam Steltzner, rather, Dr. Steltzner. It's a pretty inspirational story!

Back to your question, you can still work with aerospace and defense outside of SA. The best place to start is through academia in research and development and then internship/co-op. Better yet, apply to a foreign country's university and enroll as an international student. From there, pursue every internship or research opportunity available to you. I can't encourage being an international student and immersing yourself in research/intern opportunities enough! Start looking for universities that have research opportunities in propulsion, aircraft structures, sounding rockets, and general aerospace (in SA and internationally). This will give you a better idea of where you can go, for starters. International studies can also be supplemented through scholarship, grants, loans, etc., as I'm sure you may know already. So, work hard on achieving the grades now and these doors will open. The important thing to remember is that it's going to be hard, but don't give up! The outcome is far more rewarding!

Feel free to ask any other questions that may arise and I wish you the best of luck! :)

Hi Alexis! 

That's great to hear! I can guarantee that almost every engineer has been in your shoes at some point! Luckily, if you find your interests spanning across multiple engineering "disciplines," that's quite alright because there are areas of application where you can be immersed in multiple types of engineering/sciences. For example, I'm a "mechanical engineer," but researched in aerospace applications, which facilitated my interests in propulsion and combustion of propellants. Right here I've covered your three "disciplines." What's important is really finding what inspires YOU - what do you find interesting enough to go out of your way to learn about? Do you want to make a change in the world? If so, what do you want to change? Whatever the field of application is, I bet there's a way to encompass two, if not all three, of your areas of interest :) If you have something in mind and want some ideas, let me know - I'd be happy to share some ideas!

As for your questions about what I do, my field of study is largely "systems engineering," involving mostly fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and heat transfer topics. All of these fall under the mechanical and/or aerospace engineering umbrella. I look at the entire piping systems (supply vessels, components, flow controls, gauges, etc.) that route the various gases and liquids needed in the testing of high-powered rocket engines. The rocket engine test itself doesn't last but maybe 60 seconds to 5 mins or so (on average).  But in this timeframe and ~6-8 hours leading up to test time, there is a beautifully orchestrated sequences of events going on throughout the test facility where valves are opening and pumps are initiated to start flows in one (or two, or three) pipe system(s), and valves close elsewhere to direct the flow in some direction, and then these may close and another system flows from it's source to another desired location, and so on. In short, there's a lot going on at the same time, all over the facility. I help moderate and analyze their operation on a daily basis, get data, document any anomalies, analyze, and make sure everything is in check before, during, and after test. As for design, we get to design and redesign these systems as necessary for the different requirements an engine may need. The fluids we use range from gases to liquids (cryogenics), and largely hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, helium, and water. It's never boring, especially when the reward is seeing a 290,000 pound-force engine hot fire every week! 

My college experience was great and probably very similar to most engineering grads! I minored in math, joined a few clubs (i.e., ASME), got involved in undergrad research,all of which helped me narrow down my interests. Despite being one of the few, if not only, girl(s) in every engineering class, I'm happy to say I was not discriminated against. I did have a professor that warned me about possible discrimination from an older generation(s), and said us girls needed to be more on top of our game than the guys in our class as "practice" for the possible real world. He spent the entire semester calling on us (2) girls in class to have the answers for all of his questions. It was a little challenging at the time, but he had a good point and we enjoyed the challenge. Plus, we had the best grades in the end :) 

If I could offer any suggestions, it'd be to pay close attention to what you find interesting and then do some homework on the engineering that goes in to it. This approach alone helped me get where I am today. You'll have a "job" for the majority of your life, so you definitely want to find something you'll not only like, but truly enjoy. I love my job because I'm passionate about it's field of application and want to see space exploration become not only more available, but pushing the limits and boundaries (literally) of where humankind can travel and discover. This drive keeps me going and I think it's extremely important for everyone to find this source of passion within. If you do, you'll enjoy every day of what you do :) 

Let me know if you have any other questions and I'd be happy to help out!

Best of luck!
Megan

Hi Tanima! You sound just like I did when I was starting out, haha! Well, guess what? Robotics, or “mechatronics,” needs not only mechanical and electrical engineers, but also computer engineers! It’s a multidisciplinary application, so don’t worry if your school doesn’t offer a “robotics” or “mechatronics” class. In the first year or two of engineering core classes, engineers learn a little of each engineering field with courses like dynamics, circuits, computer programming, etc. So, when you take these courses, ask yourself how you can apply these principles to robotics. Similarly, I went to a school that didn’t offer courses in the application I was most interested in: aerospace. But like aerospace, robotics/mechatronics is built on the fundamental engineering courses that make up both mechanical and electrical engineering. So, I talked with the Dean of Engineering, who suggested mechanical engineering for its vast applicability in nearly every field of interest! I enrolled as a mechanical engineer major, took a few classes to try it out, and was hooked after my first LEGO robot in ME 101. With every project or assignment, I then asked myself, “How could this be applied to aerospace?” and kept learning as much as I could to the topics I liked most. If you like tinkering with electronics and sensing instrumentation, start out with electrical engineering; If you like building things that move and designing their interacting systems, start out with mechanical engineering. If I had to pick between the two, I’d suggest mechanical, as you take both basic kinematics and electrical circuitry. It truly comes down to what you find more interesting and fun, so immerse yourself in a robotics club (or start one!), project, research opportunity or competition. I would further suggest talking with an advisor at your school or the professors that teach the introductory courses in mechanical and electrical engineering…they might be able to share what projects and assignments you could do related to robotics! As for your programming course – do not get discouraged! I struggled through my first programming class as well and it wasn’t until the very end of the course that everything “clicked” for me and I started to enjoy it. Keep up the hard work and you’ll get farther than you’d imagined!