CLEARFIELD—When Erica Sandoval asked how many of the girls in the audience would like to go to Mars some day, it seemed that all hands went up.
All 400 girls attending the 17th annual Northern Utah Expanding Your Horizons in Science and Mathematics Conference were excited about the prospect of space flight.
And Sandoval is one of many working to help it happen.
Sandoval is a senior principal manufacturing engineer at Orbital ATK, which means she is part of the manufacturing team that puts rockets together.
That makes her a rocket scientist, and that made the girls in sixth through ninth grades sit up and listen as she spoke to them about how she arrived at her career and how they might find one that they too can relish.
When she was growing up, Sandoval said she had an interest in fashion and sewing.
“Sewing is assembling and making a rocket is assembling,” she said. “You just have to figure out how to put it together.”
Sandoval outlined the path that led to her job with Orbital ATK, sponsors of the conference.
She was involved in Girl Scouts, and later had jobs that taught her to work hard, including one in Alaska in the fishing industry – “the hardest job I’ve ever done.”
Now a mother of two, she said engineering and family can go together.
Sandoval encouraged the students to find their interests and develop their skills.
“Figure out what you might be good at,” she said, “and stand by that.”
She encouraged them to ask questions and to solve problems.
“If your paths take a lot of different directions, that’s OK,” she said. “Feel pride in doing something well, and let that build your self confidence.”
Sandoval showed students video of a recent launch abort motor test. According to information from Orbital ATK, she is a project team lead for the launch abort motor, an escape vehicle for astronaut safety on NASA’s new Space Launch System, and received an award for her work on a rocket test last June.
She told the girls the rocket is expected to be ready to ferry astronauts to Mars in 16 to 17 years.
She answered questions from the attendees about salaries and work schedules, astronauts and rocket fuels.
When asked how many women had gone to the moon, she said not any, “not yet.”
After the keynote address, participants attended workshops led by women in science and math careers on subjects from fingerprints to planets, on reading maps to making lotions.
“It’s important to show a real-life example of what a real engineer does,” Sandoval told the Clipper. “They don’t always have to know for certain what they want to do, their paths can take a lot of directions, but if they know what they’re interested in and what their skills are, they can look for a marriage between the two and find a career that they can enjoy and be successful at.”