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Meet Kelly McEntire

Turbomachinery Branch Chief
NASA Lewis Research Center

My Field Journals

Chat archives

My Job
My title is Turbomachinery Branch Chief. I manage a group of 12 engineers that turn the ideas of our lab's "rocket scientists" or more correctly aeropropulsion researchers into reality. I have both a bachelors degree and masters degree in structural engineering. All the engineers in my group have degrees in either mechanical, aerospace or structural engineering. Essentially, we all do mechanical engineering. The job of the engineer is to "turn the ideas of today into the realities of tomorrow." This a great cliche, but says in a few words what every engineer's job is. All great ideas almost always have to go through a process of design, build and testing before they can be implemented. This process weeds out bits and pieces of an idea that just are not practical and at the same time replaces these with practical solutions.

My Career Journey
I spent many of my formative years growing up on a dairy farm in Idaho. I always planned on being a veterinarian. As I got older and took on more responsibilities with the dairy cows, I changed my mind. This change in mind occurred after milking cows on a rather wet and cold fall day. After enduring a few hours of having a wet manurery tail slapped across my face many times, I decided that working with animals was not for me. Although I loved animals, I just did not have the patience to work with them day in and day out.

I had always done well in math and science in high school and so I knew I wanted to do something in a related field. In addition to being a dairy farmer, my dad also had a degree in Civil Engineering. I decided to pursue civil engineering partly because of my dad and also because I figured it would give me a chance to work outdoors a lot working on construction projects. As I approached the end of my four years in engineering school, I found I liked the analytical side of things and so I concentrated my studies towards structural analysis.

Out of school I got a job with Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland as a structural engineer working on satellites. It was my job to make sure that when a satellite was launched, that it did not fall apart. I ensured it was strong enough to endure both launch and in the case of Space Shuttle payloads, landing. After eleven years in Maryland, I decided that living in Washington, D.C. was not where I wanted to raise my kids nor where I wanted to live the rest of my life, so I arranged to transfer to Lewis Research Center here in Cleveland, OH. I have shifted from working on space hardware to working on jet engine research. Most of the skills do transfer over. Physics is physics. All I learned before still applies, just in different ways.

Career Likes/Dislikes
I love working for NASA. We do cutting edge research. We do work that no other group does. We work on projects that will change the way we all will live in the future. The only negative aspects of my career is that it forces me to live in a large city. I am a small town country boy. I still wish I could live in the mountains of Idaho. Cleveland is an improvement over Maryland, but it is still not Idaho.

Childhood Influences on your Career
I took all the math and science courses that I could while I was in High School. I also tried to do lots of different things and not be afraid of something just because it was unfamiliar. I developed an attitude when I was a kid that I still have today, that is a desire to always learn new things.

I would say go for it, because it is a very satisfying career. It provides a good stable income in our somewhat uncertain world. A good engineer will always be able to find work,because there is a great demand for engineering skills and because these skills cans transfer over to many other occupations.

Math, science and computer courses are always good things to help you prepare for a career in engineering. English also can not be overlooked. What often separates a good engineer from a not-so-good engineer is his/her ability to communicate his/her ideas in writing and in speaking.

Personal Influences
My father was the one that had the most influence on my decision to choose engineering. He was both a farmer and an engineer. He did well at both, but always had a hard time choosing between the two. He always told me that engineering schools' purpose is not to teach students to be engineers, but to teach students how to think. They then will teach themselves to be engineers. I completely agree.

Future Plans
Envisioning the future is always a tough one for me. I always have believe that you try to do the best at whatever you are doing and the future will take care of itself. I plan to work another 15 or 20 years at NASA. I want to make significant contribution to help every person who desires to travel to space someday. I think that before I retire from NASA, this goal will be achieved.

Archived Chats with Kelly McEntire


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