Engineering’s Grad Programs Place Alumni at the Cutting Edge of New Technology

Engineering’s Grad Programs Place Alumni at the Cutting Edge of New Technology

As a child growing up next to Sikorsky Airport in Stratford, Conn., Kim Sasso AS’99, BS’12, MS’16 was fascinated by aircraft taking off and landing nearby. She remembers the thrill of sneaking her bicycle onto the runway, only to be chased off the tarmac by frantic Sikorsky employees. Back then, she couldn’t have imagined where her fascination with flight – and lot of hard work – would take her in her future engineering career.

In that respect, Sasso is like many of her classmates who have graduated from Fairfield’s advanced programs in the School of Engineering. Today’s world of high technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that well-trained engineers with a passion to succeed find their careers taking off in directions they never dreamed of – many times in industries that didn’t yet exist – when they first began their studies.

After graduating from high school, Sasso began attending night classes on a full scholarship to Bridgeport Engineering Institute (BEI) while also working full-time. She was about halfway through her degree requirements when BEI was acquired by Fairfield in 1994, and received her associate in science degree in electrical engineering from the University in 1999. She continued to work full-time in a variety of engineering and support technician roles — and also raised her family – while completing additional coursework toward a bachelor of science degree at night.

In 2008, Sasso landed a job at a biotechnology company called 454 Sequencing in Branford, Conn. In her role as Senior Product Engineer, she worked on cutting-edge DNA sequencing instruments. Her work took her across the country and around the world.
When 454 Sequencing closed in 2013, Sasso took it as a sign that it was time to return to the classroom, this time to pursue a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering. Although Fairfield’s engineering school had changed and grown over the many years since she attended classes, “there was definitely still a ‘family attitude’,” Kim says of the small, tight-knit group of professors and students in the graduate program.

While studying toward her master’s, Sasso accepted a project engineer position at United Technologies, working as the leader on the Space Systems team that engineered critical environmental controls and life support systems aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft. This equipment will be crucial to crew and craft survivability as Orion prepares to venture farther into space than ever before… with the ultimate goal of one day carrying human explorers to the planet Mars.

The summer after completing her MS degree in 2016, Sasso took a new position at UTC Aerospace Systems (UTAS) and was transferred to Charlotte, N.C., where her team of eight provides best-in-class technical support for vital UTAS products aboard the fleets of key airline customers including Delta, American Airlines, and the United Parcel Service.

Perhaps no other student has witnessed the evolution of the School of Engineering more closely than Sasso, who says, “I’ve seen the engineering program at Fairfield grow, and I could never have envisioned being where I am today without it.”

While Kim Sasso commuted to Fairfield University from just a few towns away, David José’s graduate school education began in 2014 with an 8,300-mile journey from a Jesuit college on the southeastern coast of India. It was the first time he had ever left his native country.

Fairfield’s School of Engineering first came to José’s attention while completing his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Loyola ICAM College of Engineering and Technology (LICET), in Chennai, India. He checked out Fairfield’s website and was impressed by the variety of projects with real-world applications underway in the Mechanical Engineering Department.

Phone conversations with Shahrokh Etemad, PhD, who is a professor and chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department, and Bruce Berdanier, PhD, dean of Fairfield’s School of Engineering, convinced David that Fairfield was the place for him.

José’s leadership skills quickly made an impression in Fairfield’s classrooms, labs, and community. As a teacher’s assistant in the School of Engineering, he designed experiments and lab assignments for undergrad students.

As a research assistant, his favorite part of collaborating on nanotech projects was “sourcing parts from different companies and countries, then seeing the whole system come alive.”

Elsewhere on campus, José’s leadership skills were also evident in his role as vice president of the Indian Graduate Student Association (IGSA), and in his involvement with the Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network (JUHAN) — a joint service collaboration between Georgetown, Fordham, and Fairfield Universities.

“The IGSA and JUHAN were platforms I could use to give back to the greater community,” José said. “More than being an engineer, I love to be human first. Helping people makes life worth living.”

Being honored with Fairfield’s 2016 Graduate Students Service Award came as a surprise to no one except José himself, “I just did my thing, worked hard, and I would say I was pleasantly surprised.”

Today, José works as an application engineer at Omega Engineering in Norwalk, Conn. Omega manufactures and distributes sensing solutions, which according to their website include “more than 100,000 products for measurement and control of temperature, humidity, pressure, strain, force, flow, level pH, and conductivity.” Innovations in aerospace, automotive, pharmaceutical, and other industries owe their success to Omega’s state-of-the-art process measurement and control technologies.

The technical knowledge and teaching skills he learned at the School of Engineering are put to use every day at Omega in a job José describes as “applying engineering concepts and recommending the design of products to suit the requirements of our end users.” Basically, he studies a customer’s needs, builds a functional system for them, and then provides technical support and troubleshooting as the system is implemented.

Not surprisingly, both Kim Sasso and David José continue to give back to Fairfield’s School of Engineering community, most recently by participating in an Alumni Career Panel for undergraduate and graduate engineering students.

When asked what advice José would give to students interested in engineering — particularly those coming to Fairfield from abroad, he said he would tell them, “Look within yourself, go look in the mirror; if you see a fierce spirit that is willing to work hard and make sacrifices while pursuing new adventures, then nothing can stop you.”