2007 Ask an engineer - Profiles

Are you curious about engineering?  Want to know more? 
See responses to questions from these engineers.

 Yasmin Hashambhoy

My name is Yasmin Hashambhoy and I am a fourth year graduate student in biomedical engineering (BME). I am interested in understanding mechanisms behind cardiac function and eventually, I would like to build tools that will aid in the treatment of heart failure.

 I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and I didn't know "what I wanted to be when I grew up" until well past high school. Ever since I was a child, I enjoyed finding patterns and doing puzzles, so engineering seemed like an obvious choice. I attended Queen's University, to pursue an undergraduate degree in applied math and engineering. I loved it there, but I knew that I also wanted to help people through medicine, even though I didn't want to be a nurse or doctor. This led me to Johns Hopkins, where my graduate studies in BME have allowed me to apply problem solving to complicated human systems, with the knowledge that my work will someday help people with compromised health.









 Aprille Ericsson

I was born the oldest of four daughters in Brooklyn, NY. However, I am particularly proud of my heritage which has roots in the Caribbean islands of St. Croix, Barbados and Montserrat.  For high school I moved to Cambridge, MA to live with my grandparents and attended the Cambridge School of Weston. The summer following my junior year, I participated in the UNITE (now called MITE) Program. During one of the field trips that summer, I visited an Air Force Base in NH. There I was able to sit in the control tower and fly in a flight simulator.  UNITE was extremely instrumental in my consideration of career choices. It led me to the decision of entering the Aerospace field.

After graduating from high school I entered college at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where I received my Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering. During my undergraduate years at MIT, I was involved with several projects that were geared toward manned space flight.  I graduated from MIT in the year of the Space Shuttle disaster, and most of the jobs offered in Aerospace Engineering were for defense. It is very important to me that the projects I work on are not destructive, so I decided to go back to school. I enrolled at Howard University (HU) in Washington, DC as a graduate student in the Large Space Structures Institute. There I obtained a Masters of Engineering and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace option. I am proud to be the first (African American) female to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from HU, and the first African American female to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering at NASA GSFC. 

I have been working in the Engineering field for 20 years and have worked with and/or at NASA for most of that period.  Currently I am in the Instrument Systems Branch (ISB) having worked as a Proposal and Instrument Manager for several spacecraft missions.  I also enjoy teaching, and I often serve as an Adjunct Professor at local universities in the Washington, DC area.  I like working with students of all ages, and I also teach an Aerospace Club for 6th graders at HU Public Charter School of Math & Science (MS)2.  I enjoy playing football, basketball, softball, skiing, cycling and tennis, and on weekends, I often travel to softball tournaments or play co-ed flag football.



 Maryam Ali Al Thani

Maryam received a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from United Arab Emirates University in1998 and her EMBA from Zayed University in 2006.  She is a distinguished engineer who has worked in a number of different organizations including UAE University, Dubai Aluminum Company Ltd (DUBAL) and Schneider Electric.  She currently works for Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), and she serves as a voting member of the IEEE Women in Engineering committee (WIEC).  She was also appointed as the IEEE Women in Engineering Coordinator for Region 8 which covers Europe, Africa and the Middle East.  She is a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (used to be called IEE) and a member of Mensa.   She is excited to encourage more girls to consider engineering and to share about her own experience of being an engineer in the UAE.






Libby Beer

Who I am: 

I am currently a third-year graduate student in Applied Mathematics and Statistics at Johns Hopkins University.  I earned my MSE (Master of Science in Engineering) degree in this department in May 2006, and now I'm working toward my Ph.D.

How I Got Into Engineering:

I've always been interested in learning about everything -- math, music, horseback riding, knitting, literature, foreign languages... -- and there aren't enough hours in the day to do it all at once.  In college, I majored in both math and history, and I had a very hard time deciding what to do after graduation.  After a lot of soul-searching, I realized that, although I like learning about all these different things, mathematics is the thing I most enjoy doing.  It's fascinating to explore how things work and how they are connected.

I had several summer internships while I was in college, and they helped me see that my dream job involves being surrounded by colleagues who are excited about using mathematical methods to solve important problems.  Now, in graduate school, I'm preparing for just that sort of work by studying applied mathematics and statistics.  I don't know yet if I'll work in finance or industry or even government (the Census Bureau hires huge numbers of statisticians), but whatever it is, I'm looking foward to it.



Jenny Zhang

I am a graduate student in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Currently, I am pursuing my MS degree in Environmental Engineering.
I spent my undergraduate years studying Environmental Science, which prepared me with science tools such as mathematics, chemistry and physics. I also interned in a water treatment plant and in a government agency where I came up against many real challenges. Upon my graduation from college, I decided to pursue my Masters degree and then to begin a career as a professional engineer. 

I like to work with engineers who combine skills in mathematics with creativity, scientific knowledge and team-working. I especially like being an Environmental Engineer, because I'm happy to see that people drink cleaner water, breathe fresher air, and live a better life.







 Meredith Short

Picture: Copyright BP

"I never knew an engineer when I was growing up.  If I’d known what engineers do, my life might have been very different” -Meredith Short

That’s a common sentiment among many women in engineering, but Meredith Short’s experience is evidence that finding the right career doesn’t always happen right away.  While she was growing up near Louisville, Kentucky she had two primary interests:  reading and using sophisticated LEGO kits to build mechanical structures and vehicles.  When it came time for college she considered engineering, but decided to pursue her love of reading at a smaller school.  She graduated with a degree in English literature and began a career in the banking industry, but after a few years when she didn’t feel challenged in banking she decided to try something else.  Going back to school at 28 to get a mechanical engineering degree is a bold move, but Meredith stayed focused on finding a rewarding career.  She studied at Montana State University in Bozeman and did a variety of interesting summer internships.  She made models of satellites and tested features for the International Space Station, but decided she was where she wanted to stay when she began working for the oil industry.  She started working at BP soon after she graduated.  She was assigned to a number of different mechanical engineering projects there before taking the role of project manager for Engineers Week.  Now her job entails sharing her experience with others to make them aware of the many opportunities in engineering.  It’s been a varied path, but ultimately she is still the same.  She always has a book nearby, and she’s still building LEGOs.

Condensed from an article in BP Frontiers magazine, December 2004



 Panadda Marayong

My name is Panadda Marayong, but my nickname is "Nim". I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. I work in the Haptic Exploration Laboratory, and my research interests are in human-machine systems, medical robotics, and haptics (meaning the sense of touch).

My hometown is Nakhonsawan, Thailand. I came to study in the United States in 1995. I was introduced to engineering through my participation in the F.I.R.S.T. robotics competition when I was in high school in Florida. I received my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Florida Institute of Technology. I plan to finish my Ph.D. in the spring of this year and would like to become a professor. I enjoy traveling, cooking, talking about food and different cultures of the world, and recently I just started learning oil-painting.










Erin Fitzgerald

My name is Erin Fitzgerald and I am a Johns Hopkins graduate student in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) from Raleigh, North Carolina. My interests are in speech and language processing. I use computers and statistics to understand and manipulate spoken or written language. My colleagues and I design systems to automatically write speech, pull information from text to answer questions, translate from one language to another, and work on other "natural language processing" problems.

My path from math-and-music-loving high school student to ECE graduate student was full of twists and turns, but I've learned a lot along the way! I grew up playing several instruments, and when college application time came around I was interested in finding technical applications for my music interest (a relief to parents afraid of me becoming a starving musician!). I was accepted by Carnegie Mellon University into both their ECE department and the School of Music, and set forth to study acoustics and the physics of musical sound. I met a professor with a similar background who worked with the acoustics of speech, and though it moved me from music I was excited for the new range of possibilities that the combination of electrical engineering, computer science, and linguistics offered. An undergraduate research project, several internships, and four years of grad school later, I hope that I may one day help to make the billions of written and spoken resources out there more accessible to everyone, regardless of the length, structure, or language!




Becky Browning

My name is Becky Browning and I currently work as a software engineer (aka computer programmer) for Northrop Grumman.

Growing up I always liked math and loved problem solving but didn't know what I wanted to do with those skills.  I started college without a declared major but after one semester I decided to be a math education major.  That didn't hold my interest very long though so I started out my sophomore year as an Electrical Engineering major.  That turned out to be quite a challenge for me, which only made me want to succeed at it more.

After graduation, I was hired by TRW (now Northrop Grumman) to be a systems engineer which was a whole new challenge.  Since then, I've taken more computer programming classes and have transitioned into software engineering.  I find that I am happiest when I am learning new things and solving new problems and so engineering has been the perfect fit.

My family got a computer in the 80's, when I was in elementary school, which had a monochrome monitor and the DOS operating system.  I learned basic computer skills growing up but I remember when we got Microsoft Windows and had to learn how to use a mouse.  As I sit and type this on my laptop that is wirelessly connected to the world, I am awed by how far we've come.  It's all so familiar now that I can't imagine life without the computer technology that has been developed over the last few decades.  I can't wait to see what develops in the future and in some small way getting to be a part of it.



  Simil Roupe

I’m a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University working on my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, and I’m currently working with the National Academy of Engineering as a Science and Technology Policy Fellow for 10 weeks. 

I grew up in a place called Wanblee, SD.  It’s a little town with about 150 houses located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  I didn’t know any engineers while I was growing up, and I didn’t know what they did.  While I was in high school I worked for a while in a school for the deaf, where I learned sign language.  I didn’t have much money for college, so after high school I worked for a few years in a regular elementary school with kids with emotional difficulties. 

After three years in the elementary school I moved to Oklahoma to go to college, and I decided to study social work because I wanted to help the kind of kids I used to work with.  I also studied Spanish just because I liked languages and wanted to learn it.  I had so much fun taking the classes and going to Spain to study that I decided to make Spanish my second major.  I also enjoyed taking the courses for my social work major, but eventually I realized that I didn’t really want to be a social worker!  I wanted to do something creative where I could learn about math and science, and a friend of mine suggested I look into engineering.  I was really surprised at all the opportunities in engineering, and it was a great fit for me, but I had to take a couple more years in school so I could get the degree.  I got to work on a project designing a spinning rocket simulator for NASA, and I also worked in a seismic company for a while helping to design equipment for measuring vibrations in the earth.  I still wanted to do something that applied more to medicine, so I moved to Baltimore to study biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins.  I’ve been there for six and a half years studying how the brain is involved in hearing and language.  I think that’s the great thing about being an engineer—you can work just about anywhere!  


 Sandhya Prabhakaran

I am Sandhya Prabhakaran hailing from ‘God’s own country’ that is Kerala in India.  I had my initial education from The Indian High School, Dubai, U.A.E and then moved to India for my higher studies. I have done my Bachelors in Computer Engineering from College of Engineering, Chengannur in 2001. Subjects that interested me ranged from Database Design and Operating Systems to Artificial Intelligence.

I am a ‘start 3.4 Professional’. Yes that’s right, a mainframe professional. I have worked for 3 years on mainframe application programming and am currently involved with its system programming at the IBM India Software Labs, Bangalore. One might think that mainframe is a technology of the bygone era but I would like you to think once again as the System z (that’s how IBM calls the mainframe) is making waves in almost all of the technologies right from manning space missions to incorporating SOA. I also enjoy doing technical presentations.

I like reading (almost anything that comes my way) and also take to writing. I have authored a children’s fiction and am currently working on bringing out another title as well as a book on C programming language. I also enjoy trekking and heritage sight-seeing. Sketching also pleases me. I also have a flair for learning languages and doing Japanese right now. Guess 24 hours is not enough…..but then that’s life!!

Being an engineer can promise you a whale of a time, provided you know what your potentials are and what the profession has in the offing. I would be glad to share my experiences in the IT world as well as answer questions related to upcoming technologies.




Belinda Butler-Veytia

I'm from Pueblo, Colorado and although I loved chemistry in high school, I never even thought about engineering until the summer after my junior year when I went to a 3-day engineering event.  I was hooked  - I was going to be an engineer.  I went to the Colorado School of Mines and graduated in 2000 with a bachelors in Chemical Engineering and Petroleum Refining.  While I was at Mines, I knew that if I had attended another university with a large liberal arts program, I probably wouldn't have stuck with engineering to graduation.  I'm sure I would have strayed to journalism or public affairs as soon as I had a taste of thermodynamics and heat transfer.  I love to write and speak in public; I have always been fascinated with politics and government.  I didn't like a lot of the hard core engineering classes and I found them to be very challenging.  But, when I got my first internship during the summer of my sophomore year, I realized that working in a processing facility, with pipes and wiring zig-zagging through the building, was a huge adventure.  The people were fascinating and each a wealth of information and experience.  There were always problems to solve and creative ways to try to improve the system. By having interesting summer internships, I was able to keep motivated and get through the school year.  The internships made the textbook lessons more real.  In the end, I am really glad I made it; I really enjoy all the opportunities that come with being an engineer.

Since I graduated, I have been working for URS Corporation, a large consulting firm.  I work in environmental remediation, specifically on treating contaminated soil and groundwater.  To me, it is similar to having a processing plant underground, where you are trying to convert the contamination present to safe compounds.  The trick is, that unlike a processing plant, most of the time you can't see what's going on and have limited data to interpret what's going on in the subsurface.  But because things are more abstract and based on interpretation, there is a lot of room for creativity and innovation.  No site is the same and there is no silver bullet for cleaning them up quickly and cost effectively. Therefore, for each site you have to be ready to create a new solution and try to make it fit with all the conditions that exist - sometimes there are people living on the land, sometimes there is a trucking company with uninterruptible operations, sometimes you're working out on the prairie with few utilities and no other facilities within miles of your site.  You can combine older techniques with things that haven't been tried yet.  And of course, there is trying to make what works in the laboratory work in the field on a real budget.  These types of challenges and the people I get to work with keep me constantly on my toes and pushing my creative limits.