Alumni Spotlight: Denise Lainez

Denise LainezCurrent Position

Mechanical Engineer, Lockheed Martin Space


B.S. Aerospace Engineering, San Jose State University (2019)


I'm a first generation college student originally from the Central Valley, CA. I started at community college wanting to pursue a degree in Sociology. I quickly learned this wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and started researching engineering career paths, which is where I found out about Aerospace Engineering. Although at the time this seemed like a reach goal, I decided to pursue this major and challenge myself. Eventually with the help of some great mentors at my community college, I transferred to SJSU in 2016 for Aerospace Engineering. 

My first goal when moving to San Jose was getting a job at NASA Ames, by the time I was done with my undergraduate degree, I decided to become involved in as many activities or projects as possible to achieve that goal. One of the first clubs I joined was SJSU Rocket Club, from which I was able to participate in individual and group projects. I also became president of the club and managed/set up events for 2 years. In Spring of 2017 I received an email from my department chair about a student intern position in a machine shop. I jumped at this opportunity and sent in my resume. To my surprise I was called in for an interview and was offered a position as an engineering tech producing mechanical parts for defense companies like Lockheed Martin. I continued to take my courses, finally getting into my upper division classes, learning more about what Aerospace Engineering really entailed. Through a fellow student in one of these courses I was able to obtain a student intern position at the NASA Ames Arc Jet Facility, which was one of my biggest achievements as an undergrad. 

Fall of 2018, Rocket Cub presented their HARP project to the EIAC council in which I was lucky to meet the VP of Military Space at Lockheed Martin. I kept in contact with him and asked to set up a tour of Lockheed facilities for club members. During this tour, we got to see LM high bays and participate in a speed mentoring session with leaders and engineers. I took this networking opportunity to talk to a director who really liked my resume and engineering experience. A few weeks later I received a  phone interview, then a second interview, and eventually an offer letter. I definitely feel that the events that led to me to my current position had a lot to do with networking and being heavily involved with the aerospace department and clubs. 

What do you do at work?

I am currently working as a mechanical engineer responsible for the mechanical design of RF boxes for satellites. I'm currently the design lead for one these satellite boxes and will follow the completed product through design, build, test, and integration. This entails knowledge of CAD softwares, engineering writing, analysis, and the presentation process (PDR/CDR/TDR ect.).

What are you most passionate about in your work? Why?

The thing that I'm most passionate about in my work, and my biggest motivator is being able to experience building something that is going into space. 

Earlier this year I was able to experience this first hand after the first satellite I worked on launched with my signature on one of the thermal blankets aboard. 

It's a strange but fulfilling feeling to know that something I contributed to is literally out of this world. 

How has your SJSU AE experience helped shape your success?

As an alumni of SJSU's Aerospace Engineering program, I can say that going to school in Silicon Valley gives us an edge over other schools. We're not only close to companies like NASA Ames, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman (to name a few), but we also have faculty that has had industry experience with these companies. It's great to hear about their work, successes, and how our classwork applies to things done in industry. I feel that the AE department gives students the opportunity to participate in internships/conferences and projects through our industry partners. Through these opportunities students are able to build their networks and more easily find a job after graduation. 

How are you making a positive impact in the world?

Working at Lockheed Martin I have the opportunity to work on and build products that support our nation's infrastructure. Being part of the defense industry, I'm exposed to some of the world's most advanced technologies that are being sent into space. I'm proud to work at a company that supports our country's advancement and safety.

Apart from my career path, I've always found it important to give back to our community. Being a first generation college student, I wasn't exposed to engineering or even knew what it was until I was in college. For that reason I find it important to use my current position to positively impact youth in our community and expose them to STEM career paths. While at SJSU I began volunteering at a local afterschool program on the weekends and participating in STEM events put on by SJSU. While at NASA Ames, I would travel to local elementary schools and talk to them about what my work at NASA Ames entailed as well as providing STEM activities. Currently, I'm the professional development committee for 2 employee resource groups and a member of the Lockheed Martin College Recruitment team. I'm always looking for new ways to give back to the community and believe in using my stance to help others achieve their own goals. 

What advice do you have for aspiring AEs?

My advice to students currently is to start networking early. All of my opportunities in one way or another came from networking, by talking or interacting with someone that had a connection to the position I wanted. As someone who suffered from anxiety, I always found it hard to talk to people, especially if they were in a high position. Something that I learned from that is the worst thing that someone can say is no. You do not lose anything by emailing that contact you met at a presentation, applying for more than one job, or asking someone to connect with you on LinkedIn. I can honestly say that asking someone for their help or guidance in getting to your career goal has always been the hardest but also the best decision I've made time and time again. 

Second, don't sell yourself short, even if you feel underqualified or feel that the job description doesn't match your resume, any experience that you get from that process will help you the next time you apply. 

Lastly, try your best to be involved! Join clubs in or outside of AE and take on leadership positions within these, this is something that recruiters look for all the time. If you're working on projects, take the lead position, it looks great on your resume and shows you can handle the workload.