Meet: Paul Askins
I have been a test manager for the past eight years at NASA Ames Research
Center. My position includes planning and executing wind tunnel tests
in the 40 x 80 and the 80 x 120 test sections. I graduated from California
Polytechnic State University , San Luis Obispo. I started working for
NASA in 1988 as a facility engineer and found it a great place to work.
I switched to my current role as a test engineer about 1991.
I always enjoyed airplanes and aeronautics. Working
in the wind tunnel I have the opportunity to work with both. My real enjoyment
comes from working on the mechanical side of wind tunnel testing. For
me the best part of engineering is getting your hands dirty and working
hands-on with the equipment. Too many engineers have to sit in front of
a computer screen all day long, without getting to see actual working
hardware. Testing in the wind tunnel requires finding solutions to real-world
The positive aspects of my career include being able
to problem solve with mechanical systems and working with all the people,
from mechanics to software programmers, required to make a wind-tunnel
test happen. Along with the positive there comes the negative. To me,
the negative side involves keeping budgets, which to me is the most stressful
thing I do. I also have to complete my projects within a very tight time
frame, which is often hard to do with all the problems and changes that
As a Child
As a child, I always built and played with models, like cars, airplanes,
etc. As I got older, I started to work on and modify real cars. I have
found that having a really strong interest in how things work helps to
prepare you for any engineering career you decide on. Everything you know
about how mechanical and electronic systems work will make a difference
in problem-solving situations later on in your career.
I've always been a voracious reader, mostly books
and magazines on cars, airplanes, etc. I like to tinker with cars in my
spare time. I always have a few "project" cars that I'm working on.
The more work experience you get, the more you will learn about the field
you want to be in. Getting job experience (like summer internships, co-ops,
etc.) will make you a much better engineer, or help you decide that one
kind of engineering is more to your liking than another. I can't emphasize
this enough. To be happy in your career you need to find a job that really
makes you WANT to come to work in the morning.
My high school math teachers were a big influence on me. I had real problems
with math in elementary school. I was lucky to have a succession of great
teachers who where able to help me to understand and to use math. Good
math skills, especially the ability to solve real problems, is the foundation
of engineering and, indeed, most scientific careers as well.
In the future I think I want to go back more into mechanical design and
work with CAE (Computer Aided Engineering) systems also. Keeping current
with the latest trends in engineering is very important in your career.
You should NEVER stop learning.