Engineering Discipline: Civil Engineering
Job Title: Aerospace Stress Analyst
Current Place of Employment: Boeing
Current Residence: Landenberg, PA
Hometown: Dubuque, IA
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
After graduating from high school, I went to Loras College for a couple years in my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa. Eventually I transferred to Iowa State University where I graduated with a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering. Years later I took several masters level classes at the University of Missouri - Rolla, but I never did complete a master's degree.
When did you decide you wanted to be an engineer?
When I began my studies at Loras College, I was a foreign language major. I had difficulty choosing a major as I'd always had a wide variety of interests. While there I also studied philosophy, poetry and I took some business classes as well. Going to school locally made sense at the time since I hadn't yet committed to one specific field of study. I was able to save money by living at home and I could keep my job at one of the local gas stations. Towards the end of my 2nd year, I was beginning to settle on engineering, at which point I transferred to Iowa State.
What drew you to become an engineer?
My decision to pursue a career in engineering had a lot to do with the practical matters of having to earn a living after college. I can't say that I had any more passion for engineering at the time than I did for the other subjects that interested me. I do remember coming to the realization that most of the liberal arts subjects that I had been studying were all subjects that I could learn on my own without having to go to a school, whereas an engineering degree was much more tangible and valuable. Thus I set my sights on an engineering degree and transferred to Iowa State, a large university known for its engineering program.
How did you choose your discipline?
Railroad trains have fascinated me from the earliest days of my childhood, and they still do. I've raced down dirt roads in my pick-up truck, hoping to get a good photo of a train speeding past. I used to hop on freight trains as a kid with my buddies, (not advisable but we did it nevertheless.) I started building model trains when I was in high school, and I still enjoy that hobby. I chose civil engineering as a degree thinking it would open up opportunities for me in the railroad industry. However, as I progressed thru the Civil Engineering program, the transportation courses seemed to interest me less than did the structural analysis courses, and I eventually found myself emphasizing structural analysis, more specifically, finite element analysis, over and above transportation.
Can you give us a history of your career as an engineer?
Coming out of school in 1985 with a strong educational background in structural analysis and finite element analysis, my resume attracted the attention of the aerospace companies, and I found myself with a good job offer from McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company in Saint Louis, MO. I began working on the Space Shuttle program as a stress analyst. I've been doing stress analysis now for 33 years on a variety of aircraft, missile and space programs. Although my degree is in Civil Engineering, I've never actually worked as a civil engineer. In the mid 1990s, I left McDonnell Douglas and began working on a contract basis as an aerospace stress analyst, and I've been doing that ever since. As a contractor, I've worked for many aerospace companies, large and small, all over the country.
What do you do for a job now?
I currently work for Boeing as a contractor, near Philadelphia, PA.
Any cool projects you’re working on now?
The Chinook helicopter is one of my favorite aircraft and I'm proud to be able to contribute to its success.
Can you tell us about your faith journey?
I was raised in a Catholic household and my parents and the nuns who taught me, sent me into life with a solid foundation of faith beneath me. Despite my best efforts to destroy that foundation, it's managed to survive all these years. As a young adult, I would pursue every anti- Catholic line of thinking I could find up to its logical ends, where I would ultimately find contradictions, absurdity or insanity, at which point I would sling shot back to the Catholic Faith, which -as bizarre as it seemed to me- at least had the logical consistency my soul was craving. I'm grateful to my parents and the nuns who did their best to steer me in the right direction before finally pushing me out into the world. Since the time they let go of me, I've essentially drifted without anchor, but at least the initial shove off they gave me was in the correct direction.
Has your faith played a part in your work as an engineer?
I take my work seriously because, like most engineering jobs, lives depend on it. For Saint Joseph, the ultimate life depended on his work. I keep Saint Joseph in mind while I work. He's the patron saint of workers. It helps me keep things in perspective.
Has your work as an engineer played a part in your faith?
Yes, much of my work is applied to military projects, and I continually assess the morality of such.
What advice would you give to young engineers who are passionate about their faith and want to live a life of virtue as an engineer or make a difference in the world?
Pray. And if you must, pray constantly. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "Poets do not go mad, but chess players do." I realize it's a bit of a false dichotomy, but as engineers we're typically more like chess players than poets. If you're someone who struggles with your thoughts, pray. The Rosary can fix a lot of your problems, and it's cheaper than prescriptive medications. God rarely grants my wishes, but thru prayer He has often answered that question that I've found myself asking most frequently: why. If you believe that you were actually designed by God, it's not a stretch to believe that you were designed to function better on prayer, much like a gear box functions better with oil.
Is there anything else you’d like to share? Anything you wish you had heard as a high school student or a college student?
I was fortunate to end up in a specialization that I've enjoyed, stress analysis. When I was a young engineer, however, it wasn't obvious to me how my initial experience would affect the overall direction of my career. When you've worked in one specialization for five or ten years, your experience within that field of expertise will become much more valuable than your education, and switching into a different field of expertise is like starting over. Find an employer who will help you become what you want to become.
Want to get in touch with Dan Herbst? Let us know and we'll put you in touch.