My Engineer's Notebook: Jenn T. Dandrea

May 9, 2012

by ASME News

Jenn T. Dandrea is a liaison engineer for the 747 airplane program at Boeing Co., where she repairs and replaces damaged or broken aircraft parts during manufacturing at the company's facility in Everett, WA. Jenn, who served as an intern with ASME's Early Career Leadership Intern Program to Serve Engineering (ECLIPSE) from 2008 – 2009, is also a triathlete and is currently training for a half-Iron Man competition. She is the past chair of ASME's Western Washington Section, and a member of the Committee on Early Career Development and the Volunteer Orientation and Leadership Training (VOLT) Development Committee. She has been an ASME member since 2004.

What's inside your engineer's notebook?

There are lists of airplane part numbers and airplane issues I have to look at. There are also phone numbers of people I have to contact, and checklists of what I need to take care of during the day. It's got work stuff. It's got personal stuff. And it's got lots of doodling.

Whose notebook would you most like to peek into? Why?

Jenn T. Dandrea

Joe Sutter. He's considered the "Father of the 747," which is the program I work on right now. I recently read his book (747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation), which is probably very similar to looking into somebody's notebook, although it wasn't very technical. It's all about changing the JetAge of the world – going from small passenger airplanes to the 747, which is the largest commercial airplane that we have. Joe started out at Boeing as an engineer, and worked his way up to become vice-president of the program. It would be really interesting to see what his daily tasks were as an engineer on the program. It's 2012, and I'm working on two sections of that airplane — the 41-section, or nose of the airplane, and the 44-section, where the wings meet the body. They're two very critical sections of the airplane. And we still work to documents and design drawings that were done in 1967. We have not updated them. Looking at his notebook would not only be valuable for the information, it would also be valuable for my job and my career.

How and when did you know you wanted to become an engineer?

Probably senior year of high school. Until then, I had wanted to be either an astronomer or the first female NBA coach, which really wasn't going to get me very far. Junior and senior year of high school, I took auto shop. We had a full, three-car lift auto shop. Changing engines, spark plugs, brake pads. The teacher was a former pit crew chief for NASCAR. He knew his stuff. It was awesome. In my senior year of high school, I was starting to look at colleges, and really started to look at my future and looking at what I wanted to do. My auto shop teacher told me, "You need to go into engineering." And that's what I did.

What's the most exciting project you've ever worked on?

Jenn repairs and replaces damaged aircraft parts for the 747 airplane.

I got to do flight testing on the 787, which is the job I just came from before I came over to liaison engineering. The 787 is Boeing's brand-new, all carbon-fiber airplane. It's the first carbon-fiber commercial jet in the world. I got to fly around on an uncertified, experimental aircraft, verifying the design limits were met for safety-of-flight. We were testing environmental controls on the aircraft I was on, so we got to take the airplane down to a cold chamber at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. It was a hangar, essentially, a building that fit the airplane that we chilled down to -50 degrees Fahrenheit, and we let it snow in there. It's a test to make sure that the airplane could operate in the cold weathers of Alaska. And then we took it over to Yuma, Arizona, and did the complete opposite. We brought the airplane up to 130 degrees to make sure when you turn it on that it cools down properly, that everything functions, that the doors work, that the engines turn on. I did it for two years and it was the greatest learning experience. You learn how to work in a very high-stress, very demanding safety-critical work environment. I mean, you're flying around on something that's not certified! There's such a small opportunity to do something like that, and I had the ability to not just test an airplane, but to test the newest airplane.

What do you think you'd be doing if you hadn't become an engineer?

I'd probably be a teacher. That was my back-up plan — to be a math teacher. If I had to do it now, I'd probably be a chef. Not only do I like cooking, I actually do pretty well in it. Or I would probably do dog training. I have a passion for dogs. I volunteer at the Humane Society, and I walk the dogs.

What's your favorite hobby or activity when you're not working?

Right now, I'm a triathlete. I'm training for a half-Iron Man. That's kind of consumed my time, but I love it. It has become very social for me. I'm on an endurance sports team. We swim, bike and run together. It's probably what consumes most of my life. And on top of that I play lacrosse for a women's team. Those are my two major hobbies. I have a slew of them, too. I'm president of the Syracuse Alumni Club of Seattle, and I volunteer at the local high school teaching math and science. I still manage to cook and hang out with friends. Time management!

Was there a book or a movie that piqued your interest in science or engineering?

The only movie I thought was really cool math-wise was Pi. But that's such a cult film, I don't think I'd recommend it to anybody under the age of 18. It's a very disturbing movie, but it's very interesting, the math concept and the number pi. Also, any movie that has to do with airplanes: I like Pearl Harbor and other World War II-era war films, but this happened after I had already decided to become an engineer. I didn't like airplanes until I started working for Boeing.

Who are your heroes, either within the engineering profession or in the rest of your life?

Michael Jordan was always my hero. That's why I wanted to be an NBA coach. I loved basketball growing up. I played it. I was involved in the sport a lot. And I'm a five-foot girl. I don't belong anywhere near a basketball court. My older brother had a Michael Jordan documentary, and I remember seeing that and thinking it was really awesome. Magic Johnson had one, too. They were just these films I remember seeing and I really found a niche with basketball for some reason. I was just really passionate about it. The whole technical aspect of things — deciding to become an engineer — did not click until pretty late. That's actually what I'm trying to prevent now by going to high schools and middle schools and speaking about engineering. Nobody did that when I was a kid.

What's the most meaningful or rewarding aspect of being connected to engineering?

What I tell the kids is that you can change the world. Whatever you do, it has some impact on human life and the quality of life, and you've got to do good things with it. Sometimes people say, "Well, you build airplanes. How does that help society?" And my answer is, yes, but we also build military aircraft to defend the country. We build supply aircraft that drop supplies or fight fires. And airplanes make it easier for families to visit each other. My family is in New York. An airplane gets me there a heck of a lot quicker than a train or a car. Airplanes bring people together.

What does ASME mean to you?

I've been involved with ASME since college. It's given me a wide, broad exposure to different fields within engineering. I've met tons of people. My network is huge professionally. In college, it gave me a social aspect on top of professional benefits. I stay involved in ASME because it's good for my career. It's good for networking. I spent the past two years as my section chair. I volunteer with the ASME students here, at U-Dub (University of Washington) and Green River Community College. I'm involved with them and try to offer as much help as they need. ASME is totally worth the time you put into it.

What I tell the kids is that you can change the world. Whatever you do, it has some impact on human life and the quality of life, and you've got to do good things with it.