Growth Opportunities Abound for Aviation Systems EngineerDecember 2017
When Jessica Lascara applied for an internship at MITRE while pursuing her bachelor's degree, she was looking for a chance to begin using her skills in systems engineering and mathematics. She had no idea the experience would lead to a career at MITRE, leadership roles within the organization, and the opportunity to pursue her own research interests—and an advanced degree. But it did.
"My first MITRE internship was in aviation safety in 2008," Lascara recalls. "I had no experience in aviation at that time, but I loved the idea of working in that field—doing something for the public good."
More internships at MITRE followed, ultimately leading to a full-time staff position.
In that early role, Lascara developed safety metrics for the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) initiative. ASIAS is a collaborative government/industry program in which U.S. airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and government entities agree to share their aviation safety data for analysis. This helps proactively identify safety issues and address them before they cause accidents or other serious safety incidents.
"The amazing thing about ASIAS is that it has one of the largest repositories of aviation safety data in the world. It includes telemetry data from 15 million flights and hundreds of thousands of voluntary safety reports from the airlines and air traffic control," Lascara says. "MITRE sets up all the mechanisms to securely collect that data and to develop the analytical tools to analyze it. We then use those tools to help monitor and study known safety issues and to discover emerging ones."
Next, ASIAS analyses are shared with the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), a government/industry group that develops voluntary mitigations based on the results of the studies. "We also build the metrics to monitor the effectiveness of those mitigations. That's what I worked on when I first came to MITRE, and I really enjoyed it."
Adding Engineering Management to the Mix
But Lascara had other interests as well. After a year with the company, she was ready to begin work on her master's degree. MITRE funded her studies.
"I'm a very collaborative person," she says. "I love working with other people, and I'm a firm believer in the idea that a team of talented people is bigger than the sum of its parts. So I wanted to learn more about leadership, coaching, and project management." That desire led to her pursuit of an engineering management degree from The George Washington University.
Not long after receiving that degree, Lascara had a chance to put her newly honed managerial and leadership skills to work.
"In my analysis role, I'd been working with some brilliant people on data-mining algorithms and what we could do with them. So when MITRE created the Data Mining and Analysis Team I thought, 'This is perfect. I love aviation safety, I love analysis, and I think this data-mining stuff is really cool.'" Lascara got the team leader job.
"It was a wonderful experience," she says. "I learned so much from the people on my team." A lot of the team's work focused on developing tools to discover previously unknown safety risks or emerging safety issues.
"Commercial aviation's safety record has improved dramatically over the last couple of decades, but that doesn't mean risk isn't introduced with changes in the airspace or the use of new technologies. So we keep developing tools to identify those emerging issues."
Applying Aviation Safety Best Practices to Other Transportation Modes
Recently, Lascara began leading a team that's exploring the applicability of the ASIAS model and other aviation safety best practices to highway safety.
"There were 40,000 fatalities on our nation's highways in the past year, and those numbers have increased recently," she says. "I strongly believe we can adapt our aviation expertise—the analytics, the IT infrastructure, our data mining and machine learning capabilities, and the ASIAS approach—to other modes of transportation. This is the beginning of what could be a big, positive impact, and that's exciting."
Lascara will also be leading an internally funded research project. "I saw a need for research to evaluate how we're going to adapt our aviation expertise to road transportation. It's not a one-to-one mapping. We need to do some experimentation to see what would work best."
One of the things Lascara appreciates most about working for MITRE is the company's emphasis on employee growth and learning. "When you come to work here, you're not just coming for one project. You're coming for the opportunity to work on many different projects dealing with a variety of tough problems, and you can make a huge impact across all of them.
"That culture of learning sets MITRE apart, and it's something I greatly value."
—by Marlis McCollum
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