About Kerianne


Aerospace Engineering

Embry-Riddle Graduation 25 days to go (not that anyone is counting)


Spring 2010 Graduation on Lower Field - not a cloud in the sky.

Engineering Students prepare to walk across the stage during the Spring 2010 Graduation Ceremony

Several of my friends from different clubs and organizations on campus graduated within the last year and I stayed on campus for three ceremonies.

All students graduate from the university in the same ceremony, including master’s students, and students who come to the Prescott Campus to celebrate their graduation from the World-Wide campus.  This is something that I really like about the Embry-Riddle graduation, because I’ve heard from friends at different universities who went to separate graduation ceremonies by college, and didn’t get to see their friends in other degree programs walk.

The graduates are called up by college.  The only difference in the undergraduate’s graduation garb, other than the different awards that graduates wear, is the color of the tassel.  The robes are all black, and the engineering tassel is orange.

I went to a high school with 2,500 students, and my graduation ceremony was huge.  I’ve met students on campus who graduated with over 2,000 students just in their class.  The Embry-Riddle graduating class is rather small because students can graduate in either the spring or the fall and the number of students at the school is relatively small.  In my opinion, this results in a much more enjoyable graduation experience for the audience member.

The two semester ceremonies are fairly different. So far Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus has not limited the number of guests you can bring to graduation.   Since the number of people who graduate in the Fall is significantly smaller than the number who graduate in the Spring, that Fall graduation ceremony is held in the Activity Center on campus.  The Spring semester is held on the sports fields. 

Both graduation ceremony locations have advantages.  During the fall commencement ceremony, your view from the top of the bleachers is looking down at the graduates, which is great for taking pictures from wherever you are sitting. It is also indoors, so you don’t have to worry about the weather, bugs, wind, or wearing sun block.

On the other hand the outdoor graduation is beautiful.  There are very few days during the year that Prescott isn’t sunny.  One of the other advantages of an outdoor graduation is the opportunity for former Embry-Riddle students to perform flyovers. There are plenty of places for your family to congregate afterwards for pictures, and there are several places where you can move up to take pictures of people as they walk across the stage.

It was bittersweet to see some of my friends graduate.  On the one hand I was excited for them to start their new jobs in new places with good paychecks and huge opportunities before them.  On the other hand, it was kind of an end of an era of hanging out with those friends.  Going to graduation gave me a good idea of what to expect for my own graduation, and I truly can’t wait. Another good group of friends will be graduating with me and I expect that my own graduation will be really fun. May 7, 2011, here I come!

Engineering Students prepare to cross the stage at Spring 2010 Graduation Ceremony

The Order of the Engineer

Professor Helbling places the ring of the Order of the Engineer on Joshua Martinez's, a Spring 2010 Aerospace Engineering graduate, pinky finger while Dr. Madler, Dean of the College of Engineering watches during the Spring 2010 Order of the Engineer Ceremony at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott Campus.

Engineering students have the opportunity to take the Oath of the Order of the Engineer just before graduation.  The Order of the Engineer is essentially a group that values ethical engineering practices by vowing to always do what’s right even if it means that you might lose your job.  I just signed up to participate in this year’s ceremony.

There are several instances of major engineering failures over the past few decades that could have been prevented if engineers had voiced their concerns rather than allowed themselves to be pressured by deadlines and company profits.   During your EGR 101 class’s engineering ethics unit, you will learn much more detail about these events through case studies.

I like to see the Order of the Engineer as a group of people who have taken an oath to use their powers for good rather than evil. After I learned about the group, I began to notice that several of my professors wore the ring of the Order.

Every semester before graduation, an Order of the Engineer ceremony is held for all graduating students interested in joining the order.  I went last spring to support one of my close friends.  

The ceremony takes place in the executive conference room on the top floor of the Academic Building. The room has large windows lining each of the walls with breathtaking views of Granite Mountain, Willow Lake, and the Granite Dells.

During the ceremony the history of the Order of the Engineer is shared with the graduates and their families and friends before the graduates say their oaths. The tradition originally started in Canada and has since expanded into the United States. In the U.S. those who choose to take the oath of the Order of the Engineer receive stainless steel rings that they wear on the pinky finger of their dominant hand.  The purpose for this tradition is that every time an engineer goes to sign a document, they will hear the clink of their ring on the table, which will remind them of their ethical responsibility and the oath that they took.

The entire group of new inductees says the oath together, and then each person walks up to the front of the room individually, places their hand through a large ring, has their ring placed on their pinky finger by one of our professors. Finally, the new member signs their Order of the Engineer certificate, hearing the clink of their ring for the first time.

The students I knew taking the oath last spring took their responsibility very seriously and were very proud to walk out of the ceremony with their rings, tapping it on every surface they can for the next few days.

The ceremony was beautiful and the tradition is one that I am excited to become a part of when I graduate this spring.

Senior Year

What is senior year for an engineer like?  Well, it is a combination of things.

First, seniors are faced with their capstone design courses.  This course is specific to the senior’s degree and challenges them to use all of the skills they have learned throughout their four years of college, and then some.  Many times the topics covered in the senior design courses haven’t been covered in previous courses and require a great deal of research.  The capstone design courses are designed to simulate a project that you would face in industry, giving a student a taste of each of the phases of a design from research through completing team-determined integration and test plans.

Second, seniors prepare for their graduation.  For some students, graduating from their undergraduate degree program only means moving on to start the next phase of their education in graduate school.  For other students, graduating means entering industry, putting everything that they have learned to the test, and, best of all, getting that paycheck that they’ve spent the last four years working towards.  Whichever course students take, senior year means filling out lots of applications, collecting references, fine tuning resumes, and waiting. Waiting is the hardest part.  Waiting to hear if you’ve gotten your dream job. Waiting to hear if you’ve been accepted to the graduate school of your choice.

Third, senior year means keeping very busy between classes, extracurriculars, and the occasional trip to attend a conference, career fair, or on-site interview. I bought a suit the summer before my senior year and I’ve had six occasions to wear to it so far this academic year.

As far as finishing senior year, there are mixed reactions.  Embry-Riddle isn’t one of those schools where you will spend more time partying than studying.  Students who attend Embry-Riddle are very focused on their futures and work very hard for their diplomas.  That doesn’t mean you don’t have time to make friends, though – strong friendships are built throughout the four years.  It’s not hard to make friends in an environment where everyone is very focused and shares common interests in aviation and aerospace.

Graduation is both exciting and a little sad.  On the one hand, you are continuing to pursue your dreams, you look forward to having a paycheck and free time. On the other hand, your friends are moving all over the world to continue pursuing their dreams, and although you may never lose touch with them, your lives will diverge after graduation. For me, the most overwhelming emotion is excitement about moving on to the next stage and making a difference in the world through my work.

Observer Flights Offer Wonder to Non-Pilots at Embry-Riddle

Me in the back seat of the Cessna 172S single engine aircraft flying over the Granite Dells of Prescott.

The type of aircraft I flew in with Granite Mountain in the background.

One of the unique advantages of attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is the ability to do free observer flights in small aircraft. Although I am almost half-way through my fourth year at this university, I had never taken advantage of this opportunity. After mentioning this to my friends, I was surprised to find out how few of my fellow non-flight student friends had actually taken an observer flight.

Since I was staying on campus for Thanksgiving, and I had a day off (a rare occurrence for seniors studying engineering), I decided to give the observer flight a shot.

I arrived at the flightline at 9 a.m. on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the time recommended by the dispatcher on duty. Due to the low amount of traffic on the holiday weekend, I waited until 10:45 a.m. when an instructor and student agreed to allow me to fly with them.

The flight I observed was a one hour private pilot training flight with student Stan Westerman and instructor Lorne Trapani in a single-engine Cessna 172S.

Before my observer flight, the smallest aircraft I had flown in was a regional airliner. I’d heard several things about the difference between commercial flights I’d taken and what to expect from a small aircraft. I’d heard that I was going to be crushed in the back seat and that a commercial flight with turbulence was going to be nothing compared to what I’d experience in a single-engine aircraft.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that in my experience, neither of those cases were true. There was plenty of leg room and I found the level of turbulence about equivalent to a commercial flight. The flight in general was very enjoyable.

After a quick passenger briefing, I buckled my seat belt and eagerly awaited take-off. The instructor and student pilot adjusted the flaps and discussed cross wind as they prepared for the flight. As I sat in the back of the plane, I couldn’t help but think that it didn’t feel very different from sitting in an idling car.

The plane left the runway into a cloudless blue sky. Just after take-off we were flying over the university with beautiful views of the Granite Dells and Granite Mountain. We then banked to fly over Glassford Hill and approached Mingus Mountain. Our horizon quickly became the red rocks of Sedona and the snow-covered peaks of Flagstaff as we flew over Mingus Mountain.

I wasn’t really ready when the plane touched back down; the flight could have lasted another hour. The vistas were well worth the wait.

A view of campus from the air A View of Campus from the air.

The Granite Dells and Willow Creek across from campus

Glassford Hill between Prescott and Prescott Valley

Granite Mountain from just after take off.

In the foreground you can see Mingus Mountain. Behind that, you can see the red rocks of Sedona. In the distance you can see the white-capped mountain of Flagstaff.

Climate Shock and Season Confusion Part III: “But it’s a dry heat”

One of the other big differences between Houston and Prescott is the humidity.  Houston is very humid, causing the heat index to soar in the summer.  Prescott, on the other had is much dryer.

The first experience that I had with a dry environment was when my family took a road trip vacation in the west. We drove from Houston to Los Angeles and stopped to see many sights in-between.  It was the summer and uncomfortably hot, but a most peculiar thing was happening.  As we looked out at the Petrified Forest of northern Arizona, our sweat actually started to evaporate.

“It may be hot, but at least it’s a dry heat,” my Dad told my family. We bought him a t-shirt with skeletons laying in the desert and the saying “But, it’s a dry heat.”

Prescott is considered to be high desert which results in an interesting mix of desert areas and forested areas, where the climate transitions from a Phoenix-like desert and the forests of Flagstaff.  Prescott is just about right in the center of the state of Arizona and just about halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff, giving it an interesting mix of landscapes.

Living somewhere without humidity meant changing a few of my daily habits.  I fully anticipate that I will lose any male readers in the next couple paragraphs.

When I lived in Houston I never really needed Chap Stick or lotion.  If I used them, it was to make lips look glossy or because it smelled good.  When I moved to Prescott, my lips were almost instantly chapped and my skin got dry for the first time in my life.  During the winter of my freshman year, my skin got so dry that it began to crack and bleed.  “What on earth is going on?” I thought to myself.  Since then, I’ve learned to carry Chap Stick and lotion with me all the time.

The dry weather isn’t all bad though.  I could never get my curly hair to settle down in the humidity of Houston.  Most days I would just tie my hair back in a pony tail. In the dry weather of Prescott, every day is a good hair day. Even on windy days, my hair still looks great – it just has better volume.  When I tried to straighten my hair in Houston, it would be wavy again by the time I got to school.

I went through a phase sophomore year where I straightened my hair every day and it actually stayed straight all day.   The only downside is that I have to switch shampoos every time I go between Texas and Prescott.  Moisturizing shampoos for dry hair in Arizona and volumizing shampoos for normal hair in Texas.

I look at the climate difference as something to learn from.  I could have gone to Daytona Beach where the climate is very similar to home, but I came here because the climate is so different, and somewhat because snow is quite a novelty to me.  The season confusion is definitely something I can cope with as I learn to appreciate the experience that the different climate has to offer.

Climate Shock and Season Confusion Part II: The Novelty of Snow

Living somewhere where it snows was an entirely new concept to me.  It just doesn’t snow in Houston, and if it does, it melts before it hits the ground.  My parents have some footage of a thin millimeter-thick layer of snow on the ground in my backyard when I was a baby, but I don’t ever remember seeing snow.

As a child, I was a little like the children in the original King and I who didn’t believe in snow.  As far as I knew it was something out of books and movies and it was so alien to me that I would have had no trouble believing that someone had simply made it up.

The first time I saw snow was when my high school took a winter break trip to Colorado.  We stayed in Keystone and visited Breckenridge.  It was like stepping into a movie.  I remember stomping around in my hiking boots fascinated by how the snow moved and sounded under my feet.  The southerner in me expected snow to feel like walking on piles of freshly picked cotton (I did actually play in piles of freshly picked cotton once as a child).  The crunch I felt when my boot first touched the snow was completely unexpected. The trip seemed magical.  Maybe that whole snow thing was real after all.

My first snow day was at Embry-Riddle freshman year.  I told my family that although, technically I was an adult now, it was definitely not too late to experience the magic of a snow day for the first time in my life.  One of my freshman roommates was from Florida, and also fascinated by the snow day. She took one of the signs that said “Class Canceled Until 12:40” and put it on the wall in her room.

First time I saw in snow in Prescott - Finals December 07

AXFAB covered in snow

My Texan Ford covered in snow

Me super excited about a light dusting of snow freshman year

Since freshman year, as I’ve spent less and less time back home, I’ve gotten used to and grown to love the weather in Prescott.  If you’d asked me where I wanted to move after graduation at the end of my sophomore year, I’d have told you Houston – so I can get the heck out of the cold.  Now, I am very open minded about where I go and I’m excited to experience different climates and cultures.

Climate Shock and Season Confusion Part I: Temperature Differences

One of the fascinating things about Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott is how few students are from Arizona.  The vast majority of Embry-Riddle students are from out of state or from another country.

Each student has a very different perspective of the weather in Prescott.  To me, a native Texan, the weather was really cold.  This blog entry is my story of adjusting to the different climate in Northern Arizona.

For the first nearly 19 years of my life, I lived just north of Houston, Texas in a town named Spring.  The story I was told about the naming of my hometown was that as settlers moved in from the coast they migrated out of the coastal plains and into the piney woods region.  As they reached the piney woods, all of the Texas wildflowers were blooming and they founded a railroad town called Spring. Spring, Texas is humid and warm for most of the year.  Until I left for school I didn’t really know anything else.

In Houston we joke that we have a couple weeks of fall, a couple weeks of winter, a couple months of spring, and nine months of summer.

Prescott actually has seasons.  Back home, during our two weeks of fall, the leaves usually just turn brown and fall to the ground.  There are few trees that actually change color.  Freshman year when the leaves on the trees were actually changing colors in Prescott, I collected several of them and pressed them between the pages of my text books. I then mailed them to my parents, instructing them to tape the leaves to the trees in our front yard to make all of the neighbors jealous.

Fall Folliage

Depending on which student you talk to, Prescott isn’t that cold at all.  During October, it is usual for the high temperatures to be in the 60’s and the low temperatures to be in the 30’s or 40’s. These are temperatures that I associate with the dead of winter in Houston.  We’ll occasionally get temperatures that cool or colder in Houston, but it’s much later.

I didn’t have any winter clothes when I started at Embry-Riddle at it was super cold.  Since then, I’ve stocked up.

I always find it funny when my friends talk about how warm it is.  My roommate freshman and sophomore year grew up just outside of Chicago, and she told me that November in Prescott feels like spring in Chicago. Sophomore year a group of my friends from all over the country was shocked to hear that I had never experienced a white Christmas. When the weather got down to highs in the 60s I was bundled up.  I got teased a little for it by Coloradans in t-shirts and shorts.

My friends were always teasing me about how cold I thought it was freshman and sophomore year.  I bought a puffer jacket and heavy wool coat at the beginning of freshman year with every intention of wearing them right away.  My roommate from Chicago asked me if I was crazy because it really wasn’t very cold out.  I told her I was from Texas, to which she threw her head back, laughed at me while shaking her head, and muttered “Texans.”

Telling people that I am from Texas usually makes them say “ah,” in understanding and acceptance of my foolish ways.  Sophomore year I went into the grocery store with my puffer jacket on.  The lady at the checkout asked me if it was really that cold out and looked out the window as if searching for the blizzard.  I told her that I was from Texas, so yes it was very cold out.  She laughed and said that she guessed it would be.

Chilling in my puffer jacket

The weather in Prescott tends to mess with my head.  Every year when the temperature changes in October, it tricks my subconscious into thinking that it’s time to put up the tree and start singing Christmas Carols.

The climactic differences between Prescott and Houston have caused me to contract a serious case of season confusion.  My weather and holiday associations are all muddled up.  I can never tell when one season is starting and when another is ending.  It feels like winter from October until April, with my previous winter experiences, and I it is very confusing.   My freshman roommate from Chicago had season confusion for the opposite reasons.  To her it just wasn’t cold enough to be the holidays yet.

Halloween – Dork Style :)

Me and a group of my friends dressed up as characters from Phineas and Ferb. From Left to Right: Phineas Flynn, Ferb Fletcher, Candace Flynn (Phineas and Ferb's Sister), Jeremy Johnson(Candice's boyfriend), and Buford Van Stomm (the bully). Perry the Platypus can be seen peaking out from the cabinet above the group

College students celebrate Halloween in many different ways.  Some still go trick or treating, some party, some stay at home watching scary movies.

This year for my Halloween, I spend most of the weekend working on homework (about 15 hours total).

I did take a break on Saturday night to make an appearance at my friend’s party as Candace Flynn, the sister from Disney’s Phineas and Ferb.  The group who was hosting the party and myself are all big fans of Phineas and Ferb, and did this as a sort of tribute to the general silliness of the show.

The party was pretty chill.  There was a fire pit out back and beer pong going on in the garage, which is pretty typical of most college parties.  I only had one drink because I knew I had a lot to do the next morning, and needed to get home at a decent time.  For most of the party I played Apples to Apples with a small group in the kitchen.

I also celebrated Halloween by carving Jack-o-lanterns with one of my friends.  Check them out:

On Halloween I spent most of the day working on my preliminary design project.  I then went home and watched “Jaws” while I did Control Systems Analysis and Design homework.  Thus is the life of an engineer… at least during senior year.  Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior year were much less hectic… 🙂

The Power Outage and the Engineering Lifestyle

I only have one class on Thursdays, so this Thursday I decided to take a leisurely morning.  So I slept in later than I have all semester – until 8:00 a.m.

Since I didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything until 1:00, I watched a movie while I was getting ready, had French Toast for breakfast and made it out the door around 10:00.You get very few leisurely mornings as an engineering student due to the demands of your classes, so I relished in the time I had to “chillax.”

I stepped into the Senior Design Lab around 10:15, began to get settled at one of the stations with the dual monitors, and turned on the computer.  The computers on campus always take a long time to boot up first thing in the morning, so if you can find one that has already booted up, you usually go for that one.

As the computer slowly loaded, I got out my binder for preliminary design, refreshed myself on deadlines, and began to create a to do list for my work session.

Finally, the login screen appeared and I typed in my username and password.  “Loading your personal settings…” the computer told me.  Only about a minute left until I could use the computer.

Then suddenly the buzzing of the computers and engineers hard at work died with the lights.  The power was out.  It was dead silent before one of the engineers dramatically screeched “I don’t remember the last time I saved! I’ve lost all my data.”  Other engineers commented on how far along they were in their work.

Then it was quiet again, the quietest I’d ever heard it in the design lab. One of the students commented on how lame it was that “no one in the lab had enough of a life to leave, and that they were just going to sit at the computers waiting for the power to turn back on.”

Shortly after that, the conversation in the design lab turned to politics and whether or not California should legalize marijuana. There were very strong and passionate arguments on either side of the topic.

I pulled my net book out of my backpack and started checking my email.  About 1/3 of the students in the lab pulled out their own laptops.  “I only have 30 minutes of battery left!” I announced in panic to the inhabitants of the design lab, which responded by laughing.

After I’d sorted through junk mail and responded to other emails, I decided to head home. There were still about 15 people sitting in the dark design lab when I left.

At the beginning of the year, I signed up for Code Red, the campus’s emergency notification service which calls and texts students about campus closures and emergencies.  I received a call from them letting me know the power was out on my way back from campus, which made me laugh.

It’s amazing how much of our lives depend on electricity and without it, the campus pretty much shuts down and the engineers don’t know what to do.

The power was back on in time for class, and life pretty much went back to normal; but for a short time I, as an engineer, with my life on a computer, simply didn’t know what to do.

Spacecraft Preliminary Design

When we last left our heroine, the semester had barely begun and she had lost her keys in the Salt River.

Now, more than 1/3 of the way through the semester, and fully recovered from the key losing incident, Kerianne has made it through her first round of exams and settled fully into her classes.

Now, for the moment you have all been waiting for with baited breaths. Spacecraft Preliminary Design: the intro to the pinnacle of the Astronautical Engineering curriculum. Or as the aerospace engineering department likes to call it: the senior capstone design project.

The senior capstone design project spans two semesters.  During the first semester, preliminary design, students work on the conceptual design for their project.  During the second semester, detail design, students actually build and test their design or some portion of the design, depending on the scale of the project.

The name of the degree at Embry-Riddle is Aerospace Engineering, which is fairly generic and can get you a job designing planes or designing satellites.  For the degree, students get to choose a concentration: Aeronautics (Airplanes) or Astronautics (Spacecraft).  In my experience, people tend to choose the degree that first inspired them to become engineers.

For me, I knew when I was six years old that I wanted to work on spacecraft after visiting Space Center Houston. I chose to take the “Astro” track for my concentration. I’ve met other people who chose the “Aero” track because their original inspiration was flying on an aircraft or seeing a fighter in flight as a child.

Each track has a different Capstone project.  This year in Astro preliminary design, we could choose to work on one of two projects: a university CubeSat project, or an AIAA Undergraduate competition to design a mission to remove 10 pieces of orbital debris from a 82-83 degree inclination and a 900-1000 kilometer orbit.  Guess which one I chose?

The Orbital Debris project sounded very interesting, relevant, and exciting. For a project on this scale, the team will design the mission in our preliminary design semester.  At the end of this semester we will submit a 100 page paper documenting our research, design, and justification and verification of design components to the AIAA for evaluation.

One of the cool things about our class is that one of our professors, Dr. Ron Madler, Dean of the College of Engineering at Embry-Riddle, actually wrote the section on Orbital Debris in my Space Mission Analysis and Design textbook.

During detail, students usually build their project, but in cases such as ours with such a complex project, actually building the components of the mission isn’t exactly feasible. Instead, the professors will likely have us join in on the CubeSat project or work on the university’s student build satellite simulator.

The aero track is a little different.  During preliminary design students design an aircraft from back of the envelope calculations through to a wind tunnel model that they test and evaluate in the university’s wind tunnel labs.  During detail, depending on the project, “Aero” students will do a “design-build-fly” or a “design-build-break” cycle.

My boyfriend is currently working on a fighter aircraft design for his preliminary design project.  As you can’t really build an R-C version of a fighter, he is going through the “design-build-break” cycle.  Next semester, his team will build a component of the aircraft such as a horizontal stabilizer out of composites or metals and do structural testing on it to see how it stands up to the team’s predictions.

One of the things that’s really cool about the “design-build-break” cycle is that the professor for the class worked for Northrop Grumman for 20 years before he came to teach at Embry-Riddle.  He then designed the structural testing lab at the university based on what Northrop Grumman used to do their structural testing.