AE alumna Catherine Ferrie is in a sweet spot, career-wise.
The former GT-AE doctoral student has parlayed her love of aerospace engineering and her passion for leadership into a career that combines both.
As the senior vice president for engineering at Bell Textron, she is surrounded by the technology that has always fascinated her.
“I’ve been interested in aerospace since I sawTop Gun in high school,” the Connecticut native said.
“It was the airplanes that got me, though. Not Tom Cruise.”
As a doctoral student under the mentorship of Prof. George Kardomateas,(left), Catherine Ferrie researched fracture mechanics. Since graduating in 1998, she has climbed the ladder at Bell Textron to become the Vice President of Engineering
As a newly appointed member of the GT Aerospace Engineering School Advisory Council (AESAC), Ferrie is also using her leadership skills to shape the future of a school that shaped her.
“I loved my time at Georgia Tech. And what I see now when I look at the heart of AE’s leadership is a place that has a fabulous direction. Listening to [AE Chair] Dr. Yang I am convinced that the School needs only to focus on its immense technical talents -- the quality of its technical education -- to do incredible things.”
Ferrie made these comments Tuesday, when she visited GT-AE to give a talk, sponsored by the GT chapter of the American Helicopter Society (AHS). That talk, entitled, “Engineering in the Global Marketplace,” laid out some of the lessons she has learned during her 17 years at Bell Textron.
Many of those lessons center on the Leadership Development Program (LDP) that Bell offered her as a new employee.
Ferrie said the program helped her transition from a meticulous engineer working on fracture mechanics to a respected business leader at Bell who oversees engineering operations around the world. The training helped her develop a solid leadership philosophy.
“You can have 20 or 30 years of really solid technical experience, but it’s a mistake to have that as your top criteria for selecting business leaders, especially in a technical career like this,” she said.
“You need to look specifically at the business skills – forecasting, establishing goals, strategizing – and how they can be applied. Then, having a technical background will help you ask the right questions. You’ll always be depending on engineers who know more about something than you do, too. You can’t know everything.”
When she took to the podium Tuesday night, Ferrie encouraged GT-AE students to consider following in her footsteps, by joining Bell’s Boot Camp program.
“This is a program where we have a problem, real engineering problem that needs to be solved, and we bring you in for a week, usually during your break, to solve it,” she said.
“During that week, you learn to solve a problem and we make a connection with you. That connection can lead to an internship which can lead to another internship, and, eventually, we might invite you to join our team.”
That invitation could be the beginning of an all-consuming adventure.
“Engineering is an important part of our work at Bell. Nothing leaves the ground at Bell unless an engineer says it's safe, that it's ready to have passengers. And people get very very focused as they approach that point. It's an awesome responsibility," she said.
"As a result, you'll find, the respect we have for design, for building, and for testing is huge."
Ferrie's Bell Textron colleagues (and fellow GT alums), Albert Brand, Ph.D. AE '89, and Randy Willnow, BS ME '87, were also on hand this week for the GT Career Fair, where they identified many prospects for Bell's Boot Camp and other opportunities.
Joining Catherine Ferrie on her visit to Georgia Tech this week were two of her Bell colleagues who knew their way around campus almost as well as she. From left, Albert Brand, Ph.D AE '89, Catherine Ferrie, Ph.D. AE, '98, Randy Willnow, BSME, '87, Bell Helicopter executive Jill Morgan-Frost, and AE Professor Marilyn Smith.