Where are they now? Christine Mehr, BS '19
Christine Mehr was born and raised in Wayne, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She graduated in May 2019 with a B.S. in aerospace engineering a minor in business. Read more about her experiences while in college and how they prepared her for her career.
Did you do an internship at Illinois? What did you learn?
I had two internships with Spirit AeroSystems. The first was as a design engineer working on the 777X lower lobe and the second was as a test engineer in the Destructive Laboratory.
In both of these roles I realized how much engineers work with each other and how important soft skills are. I worked a lot with R&D teams and each time that I talked with them I tried to form a personal connection. Forming that relationship made working with each other a lot easier later on when deadlines were fast approaching and stress accumulated.
What challenges have you faced and how did you cope?
As every person, I have faced many challenges in my life. In high school I was told that I could not make it to state for badminton. Although that may seem like a small bump in the road,that is when I decided that the challenges I faced would not tear me down, but instead motivate me to become better. I kept this attitude in college and attacked everything I did.
However, in my sophomore year I made the mistake most students do of overloading themselves. I was the assistant director of Illinois Space Society, team lead of a hybrid rocket engine team, a member of the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma, and was taking 18 credit hours. Needless to say I spread myself pretty thin and I could not give 100 percent in all of these activities, and definitely did not give myself enough time to recuperate in between tasks.
During this year, I made the tough decision of dropping out of my sorority and focusing more on my studies. It made more sense to give 100 percent to fewer things than 60 percent to them all. This decision came after a lot of deep breaths and stepping back from the situation and looking at my college experience and what I wanted to take away from it. Taking a step back from a hard decision allowed me to see my options logically and without emotions getting in the way so that I could see a clear path forward.
The next task was to put my head down and do the work with the positive mindset that no matter what challenges faced me I could overcome them.
During all of my challenges in high school, college, and in the work force, I have always looked at the positive side of things and looked for solutions instead of dwelling on the problems. I did not realize how important this was until working in flight test. Out on the flight line things constantly go wrong. A common phrase we use is ‘in flight test everything is on fire’ and as a flight test engineer, it’s me running around putting those flames out. This can wear you down if you only focus on the issues instead of looking for the positives and working with others to find out how to put out the fires.
What’s a significant experience in college that has come to define you as a person?
On the first day of senior design class, I remember Professor Merret walking into class with a no-nonsense attitude. I knew I could learn a lot from him, but I would have to put in the work. I pulled plenty of all-nighters at Grainger working on the assignments and studying for tests, but by senior year I was used to the cycle: Learn. Practice. Study. Test. Rinse. Repeat.
The second semester is when a turning point came for me. I decided to be a team lead. Professor Merret warned the class that being a team lead would be challenging and at times draining but, in the end, would be worth the effort. I had always wanted to become a leader after college so with much deliberation, I decided to go for it and use this experience as a trial run for industry.
I worked to be a positive force on the team contributing in mass properties, interior design, and landing gear while also leading meetings. Things were going well until midway through the year when one of our team members left. We rapidly tried to figure out how we could complete the project with so much work to be done. Members of my team began working late nights to get everything done. The stress of getting the project in perfect shape and the guilt of seeing my team members work late nights got to me and I seriously considered giving up my role as team lead.
Thankfully, I had an amazing professor to help me through the process. Merret was a constant source of guidance and positivity. I went to his office nearly every day and he gave me honest advice, most of which I still use and cherish today. He showed me how to find solutions instead of problems and how to take things one step at a time. His constant advice and belief in our team reinvigorated me as team leader. With his help and my team’s dedication we survived senior design and I came out a lot stronger. Getting to your lowest point is very important. Once you see it and overcome it, you know that you can overcome anything with the right attitude and work ethic.
What are you doing now?
I work for Boeing as a flight test engineer in their weapons division. I travel around the country, and will soon travel internationally, to test a variety of Boeing weapons at Air Force and Naval bases. While on these trips, I work with engineers from other corporations to troubleshoot issues that arise, coordinate meetings, write test plans, and monitor the weapons in flight.
This job allows me to work with multiple military aircrafts including the F-16, F-15, F-35, AC-130 and B-2, to name a few. It also keeps me on my toes. It is very fast paced, which is something I have always wanted in a job.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve done since graduating from Illinois?
On my first week of being a graduate, I went on a trip to Europe with a few other aerospace engineers for three weeks. We traveled to Amsterdam, Paris, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. During this trip we had so many fun experiences. Ironically, on our first night in Amsterdam we met a few executives from an aerospace conference that was being held there! I have to say that being able to talk to complete strangers about the beauty of aerospace engineering was one of my favorite experiences on the trip. We also ate our hearts out with all of the amazing cuisine.
At U of I all aero students see photos of fighter jets and bombers in presentations and it Is pretty cool, but seeing them and working with them in real life is an unbelievable experience. The first time I saw my first fighter, an F-16, up close I could not wipe the grin off of my face. The pilot gave me a first-class tour of every aspect of its build and the pilots screens inside of the cockpit. To top it off I was able to be on the flight line to watch it take off. Feeling the thunder in my chest as it sped down the runway and became airborne was the coolest thing I have ever experienced. It reinforced why I love being an aerospace engineer. I still always look up with a smile when I hear a jet’s engine rumble on, and I hope I will always continue to.
What do you do when you’re not working?
In college I did a lot of volunteer work educating the next generation of engineers and loved every minute of it! I have continued this in industry by volunteering at FIRST robotics competitions, STEAM education nights, and working with kids for E-WEEK. It is extremely rewarding to help younger kids find their passion and show them that they can do anything they want in life.
I also go to a lot of game nights with coworkers and other Boeing friends. A lot of times friendships are lost over a challenging game of Secret Hitler or Catan, but after a few deep breaths all is restored again. Traveling so much leaves most of my free time in new places and states, so the thing I do the most is adventure. From hiking, to exploring the museums in Washington, D.C., there is always something new to see and new people to meet.
First, join a student group and take on a leadership role. Having a leadership role in ISS is what got me a job at Boeing and a place as an engineering acceleration hiring initiative engineer there. In RSOs you can problem solves in a way you can’t in classes because there is no right answer when working on a project. You have to use creativity to think of solutions and utilize your soft skills to work with others on implementing them. Although this can be frustrating and challenging at times, it is moments like these that show you what you’re capable of and build up your confidence in your abilities. Some of my favorite memories have come out of ISS and I will always be thankful for the experiences I had and friends I made through it.
And second, network. Go to every symposium you can in college and talk to as many people as you can. You never know who you will meet and how they can help mentor you in the future. This has propelled my career exponentially and it continues to. Just the other week I was on a plane and a woman next to me began a conversation. After about five minutes I found out that she was a program manager in Boeing. It just goes to show that you never know who you will meet, so be open to meeting everyone!