Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Ortega

sarah ortegaCurrent Position

Systems Engineer, Lockheed Martin Space


B.S. Mathematics, San Jose State University
M.S. Aerospace Engineering, San Jose State University


I am currently a systems engineer supporting multiple Missile Defense Programs (MDP) in Strategic and Missile Defense (SMD). I have a unique position in that I am training to become a Systems Architect, specifically in the area of satellite constellation design. This will require extensive knowledge of the satellite and sensor side, along with an understanding of threats. In order to prepare me for this role, I am performing a variety of analyses for different programs and learning about phenomenology and optical payloads.

What do you do at work?

Since I support multiple programs, my work varies. I have done analyses to support proposals, customer meetings, and independent research and development studies. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to learn how to use different tools to perform analyses and work with subject matter experts in phenomenology, systems architecture design, and interceptors.

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

I am passionate about the applications that these analyses and their results provide. It's very exciting to take the work to the next level and see the progression from learning a new concept, building or using a tool to apply the concept, and then using those results to answer even bigger questions. It's amazing how all the pieces fit together.

How has your SJSU AE experience helped shape your success?

The Aerospace Engineering Department at SJSU not only provided the foundation for learning the skills necessary to enter into the aerospace industry, but provided tremendous support in helping me achieve my degree, while I worked full time. The skills I learned in the classes have been invaluable to my work. The strong foundation in dynamics and astrodynamics, along with the coding skills I developed in many of the classes, have been essential to my current work. Additionally, the variety of projects and classes have set the foundation for delving deeper into other areas.

How are you making a positive impact in the world?

Lockheed Martin Space has a legacy of innovation in supporting space missions, the defense industry, commercial and government satellites, and strategic missiles line of business.  It is necessary to have a strong foundation in the defense industry, with the growing number and variety of threats, and I am proud to be able to contribute to this industry, and the safety of our country, by supporting multiple missile defense programs in strategic and missile defense.

What advice do you have for aspiring AEs?

I have several pieces of advice. The first piece of advice is to believe in yourself and if you want to achieve the degree, then you can make it happen. Since I did not have a bachelor's degree in AE, I had to take the undergraduate classes as well. I was able to do this, along with the Master's level classes, while working full time, in 2 years because I had tremendous support.

Take advantage of every opportunity presented.  This includes applying to present at conferences, entering into competitions, etc.  These opportunities are invaluable and more widely available to students than those in industry.

The material and information you learn at SJSU is the foundation for the work you will learn while on the job. These skills are essential, but there is a significant amount of learning that comes with a new position and employers are aware of this.