e i r d r e J o n e s
My name is Deirdre Jones and I am serving as Chief of the Engineering Branch at the Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) Operational Support Facility (OSF). The OSF provides maintenance support for the nation's Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD).
Since the time I started the eighth grade, I wanted to be an engineer. During the summer, my family vacationed in Orlando, Florida. We visited the Kennedy Space Center. There was an exhibit that described the careers of all the people who worked at the center. I entered the booth labeled "engineer" and pressed the button. They described an engineer as an expert at whatever he did. (Of course they said "he", but that didn't stop me.) From then on, I focused on that goal. I took math and science every year n high school and applied to one of the top engineering schools in the country. In addition to being accepted to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), I was awarded a Bell Laboratories Engineering Scholarship.
Engineering school was tough. Many of my class mates had either a relative or family friend that worked in engineering and they had been exposed to engineering through these relationships. Also, some had tinkered with electronics or built small little projects on their own. I didn't know any engineers, and my Mom never wanted me to touch things. She still shakes her head when she talks about me innocently looking at items, curiously fingering and poking, as I tried to figure out how it worked. The next time she looked, I'd have the item in multiple pieces and I would be struggling to put it back together again. I can still hear her telling me "Don't touch anything when we go in there!"
Needless to say, I wasn't the best student in college, but I managed to finish with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering within four years. I did manage to gain practical experience working at summer jobs. The first two summers, with Bell Labs in New Jersey, and the second two summers working for AT&T in New Jersey. The engineer that mentored me my second year at Bell Labs was outstanding. He showed me through a demonstration project that had practical application to their mission. I learned how to develop a project, document it, and test it. I recommend that everyone get some practical experience in industry before graduating from college. This will help in your studies as well as give you training that future employers look for in new hires.
I graduated from RPI, I worked for Vitro Corporation in Silver Spring,
MD. (I lived at home for four years.) I started working on my Masters
Degree in Systems Management the very next fall semester after undergrad,
and finished in December 1985. With Vitro, I was working on the Ground
Launched Cruise Missile Program, and it was with Vitro that I transferred
to Oklahoma City to work on a contract at Tinker Air Force Base. Working
for the defense industry was pretty cool. We used to pretend we were
in actual war situations, as we exercised the launch software. When
the contract with Tinker ended, I was out of a job, and by then I had
met and married my husband, Bobby. I pounded the pavement for several
months. This was when I first encountered the Operational Support Facility
(OSF). After I worked for a year with Frontier Engineering in Stillwater,
OK in the field of Quality Assurance (QA), I became the QA Chief for
The job I have now, Engineering Branch Chief, matches the vision that I had when I decided to be an engineer back in the 8th grade. When I attended my 20th high school reunion, one of my friends said, "You always wanted to be an engineer and now you are, Wow!" I really like my job, even though it gets very hectic and stressful sometimes. Every time severe weather strikes, I listen for the report of how the NEXRAD radar performed. When a warning is issued well before severe weather hits (tornados, for example), and there are very few, if any, lives lost or injured by the storm, the more proud I am of the OSF and the work we do. In the Engineering Branch, we make hardware and software changes to the system, document and test the changes, and provide field engineering support in the event there is a question that cannot be answered quickly. What keeps the job interesting is the constant change. We have to treat all facets of NEXRAD to resolve a failure or site problem. OSF Engineers have to address, radar, computer and peripherals, tower and site issues. Sometimes we have to scratch our heads and hit the Internet to find answers, but our crew at the OSF, in fact in the entire Weather Service, is very talented. Everyone has to pitch in to do their part to keep the radars working for the forecasters.
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