Ashley Barnes

M.S.A.E. 2020

What is your next adventure?

I've been interviewing at different companies, looking for a systems engineering position in the space industry but I am open to different things. I am planning to move to the San Francisco Bay area.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

I'm keeping my options open, but what I'm most interested in is space systems - working on a space mission that needs systems developed, moving the technology forward. I love taking on problems and solving them to the point where you can see a system functioning optimally. The other thing is, after spending most of my life in school, it will be nice to have a more normal schedule. In academia, you get used to working some strange hours, and I'm looking forward to having an actual weekend, when I can count on doing my laundry.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

As a master's student, starting in the Fall of 2019, so much of my time has been taken up by COVID. But, as a member of ASDL (Aerospace Systems Design Lab), I got two Grand Challenge projects last Fall that kept me busy. And they ended up being reviewed by a lot more evaluators from industry than the usual end-of-year reviews because it was all done virtually. During one of my final presentations, there were 60 people watching me.

In one of my projects, I used model-based systems engineering (MBSE) for a project called DEAL - Digital Enterprise Across the LIfecyle - we had to bring more technology into the engineering lifecycle. I met monthly, online, with our sponsors from Rolls Royce, and then had an end-of-year review, where they asked me to explain all of my work. They wanted us to develop an efficient product lifecycle. We used Magic Draw, a software program, to produce requirement models, descriptive models, functional models, and use-case models.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

At Princeton, where I did my undergraduate degree, I'd completed classes and done the homework, but I didn't feel like I knew what it was like to be an engineer. When I came to Tech, I wanted to develop more confidence in my professional engineering abilities. Now I feel like I have an edge over a lot of engineers coming out of college.

At Tech, my research projects have fully engaged me. When my partner came out to visit me during the year, he was really impressed by what he saw. I was going to meetings in different labs and discussing projects with sponsors. It was a fast pace, similar to what working engineers do. I had deliverables I had to produce, as opposed to just being a student who took classes. And at the end of the year, when I had to give presentations to the sponsors, I was really nervous at first - I wasn't used to talking to working engineers - but the nervousness went away because I had a lot to report.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

I'd definitely say, be pro-actively organized. Be social. And be optimistic.

Sometimes a lot is going on, and it seems overwhelming. You start to panic about what you should do first.  What helped me was to have a booklet where I wrote down all of the things I needed to do -- and all of the things I needed to do to get them done. If I got assigned to a group project in the beginning of the semester, I was that person who said "Okay, let's meet." Because if no one is taking the initiative, it's up to you to take it. You can calm yourself by realizing that if you take action now, you'll be less crazy later on. 

What I mean by social is this: it's a big transition going from undergraduate where you are with all your friends all the time, to graduate school, where you don't have time to be around everyone all the time. You need to find a good middle ground.  I made friends with the people in my lab and we went through things together, eating lunch together, having fun. Whatever. You need to have some social life.

About optimism. I noticed that when things got tough, we tend to split into two different ways of handling things. Some would just work and not do anything else. They tended to spiral down. Then there are others who realized that, well, we're all going to finish this, so why not be optimistic about the outcome? If you are working hard,  you will finish, so don't let yourself spiral down. Take care of your mental state with the same energy as you bring to to getting that project done. If you need extra time to get it done or you need some other sort of help, ask for it.