Engineering alumna working on Europa Clipper program at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab
By David Staudacher
Is there life on Jupiter? UIC alumna Annie McDonnell wants to find out. The Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering alumnus recently landed a position as a systems integration and test engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
The young engineer graduated from UIC in 2016 and is already rocketing toward a thrilling career. She will be working on systems-level testing for the Europa Clipper program, which is set to launch in 2023. The spacecraft will be sent to Jupiter’s moon to study whether conditions there could sustain life.
“I’m excited to be working on projects that could change the fundamental way we look at the universe,” McDonnell said. “The Jet Propulsion Lab is filled with so many exciting projects, cutting-edge technology and some of the smartest minds in science and engineering. I can’t wait to learn and grow while being a part of this incredible team.”
Apart from learning, the ambitious alumna looks forward to accomplishing much more with the NASA lab.
“Within the next several years, I am looking forward to the build and launch of my first NASA mission and its journey to Jupiter,” she said. “In the long term, I hope to learn more capabilities of the departments within the lab and eventually lead a team of engineers. I have a lot to learn before then, but JPL is a wonderful place to develop as an engineer and explore new opportunities.
“Frankly, I had no idea what I was hoping to do when I started school, and [Professor Laxman Saggere] was one of the first faculty members that I was able to get to know. I genuinely looked forward to meeting with my advisor on a semi-annual basis.
Saggere, who was McDonnell’s academic advisor, said he is excited for McDonnell.
“I started my career at a space research organization in a very similar position,” Saggere said. “I found all of that experience very valuable in my later career and hope the same will be true for her. I have visited JPL a few times and collaborated with some people there. It’s a great place to launch a technical career and grow professionally working alongside with some of the best technical minds in the country. I am sure that she will find the JPL experience challenging but very well rewarding professionally.”
Before reaching NASA’s lab, McDonnell gained valuable experience as a systems engineer at Honeywell Aerospace in Torrance, California.
“I was able to gain highly transferrable skills both as a systems engineer and as a test engineer at Honeywell,” McDonnell said. “My new role at JPL combines both of my past roles at Honeywell while allowing me to learn a new way to apply that knowledge.”
McDonnell’s passion for engineering was ignited at UIC, where she thrived as she took advantage of the many unique opportunities she discovered at the campus located in the heart of Chicago.
“My classes and clubs gave me great hands-on experience working with people from different backgrounds, which helped me gain important communication skills that I wouldn’t have learned at another university,” she said. “I chose to earn my degree in mechanical engineering from UIC because of its commitment to diversity and its wide breadth of resources available to engineering students.
“It was also important to me to live in a city that is a central hub for engineering development. Being in Chicago made it easier for me to land internships and attend workshops critical to my career development.”
Learn more about the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at http://mie.uic.edu.