Sarah K. Urdahl

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Sarah K. Urdahl
M.S. AE '16

What is your next adventure?

I've definitely been that person who's been go-go-go, mentally and physically - I played Division I field hockey as an undergrad [while majoring in mechanical and material science engineering] and it didn't get any less demanding when I came to Georgia Tech. That's what I wanted, and what I expected. But, now, I am planning to take a month or so to just relax. After that, well, I am still fielding offers from three different companies, so I will either be in California or in Colorado working as a systems engineer in some capacity with space vehicles.

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

I think the past six years have all been about getting somewhere. It can seem so far into the future, and that makes it seem unattainable sometimes. So the number one thing is:  It'll be a relief to finally be somewhere, instead of this rolling process. I look forward to diving in and working on research. The other thing is: for the last six years, it's been all about me: field hockey, classes, graduate school, research...it'll be nice to finally be in the position to give back. Wherever I end up, I look forward to doing some mentoring with girls and engineering.

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

At Tech, I did sponsored research on navigation in GPS-denied environments - basically: how do you find your way around if you can't use GPS? It's an important question for UAVs. But it wasn't your typical research because we had a real customer that expected results on deadline. We were expected to help that customer realize a goal - something that really prepped me for what I will do as a working systems engineer. I also interned at Northrop Grumman, working as a attitude control systems engineer for space vehicles. It was my first breakthrough into the field and it was very exciting. Northrop Grumman has a rich history of relevance in this area and I benefited from that legacy.

How did your educational experience at GT-AE help you achieve that goal?

If you want to work in the field of aerospace engineering, it doesn't hurt that ASDL gives you the opportunity to work on a sponsored research project. When I go on interviews, it has been great that I can talk about the experience I have actually doing research, presenting ideas to sponsors, and making changes.

One of the things that Dr. Mavris beats into you [not literally] is that you've got to know your story when you meet with your sponsors. Now, he might not have said 'story,' but he does emphasize how important it is that you be able to tell people how you got to your conclusions. That's your story. You can't just jump to the results. At some point, you'll be selling your concepts to non-engineers and you'll want them to follow you. And, along the way, you want them to feel good about working with you.

The experience tested how well I knew myself and how well I knew my material. I had to use presentation skills as well as technical skills. I'm a very logical person, so I appreciate the expectation that I give things a lot of thought before I present them. That's what Dr. Mavris expected. And, in the end, that's what works best.

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

Realistically, you have to navigate your time here the way you would any new place: find your people. Friends, classmates, faculty, whoever that is. Your experience is defined by the people you share that experience with. At Duke, I had 20 'best friends' - players on the field hockey team - and we helped each other throughout. I had good grades but not a 4.0.  At Tech, I aimed for a different experience. I wasn't going to be an athlete, here, so I transferred my competitiveness to coursework. I became friends with people in my lab - people I'll know professionally for the rest of my life. And a 4.0 coming out of Tech really catches people's attention.