Kevin Burns, Class of May 2018

  • College of Engineering
Photo of Kevin Burns

Be passionate and proactive.

I have always been fascinated with airplanes. It all started with a PC-based flight simulator and a radio-controlled airplane I received as Christmas gifts during grade school. Soon enough, I was reading every non-fiction aviation book I could get my hands on. I had the chops for math and science and took various AP classes in high school, so picking Aerospace Engineering was an obvious choice for my major.

What was particularly exciting about pursuing this major at the College of Engineering at Illinois was that the small size of the department (the size of our graduating class was just over 100) meant we were all in it together – we had study groups and developed one-on-one relationships with professors. There were also several student organizations that piqued my interest. One was called Student Aircraft Builders, a club that was building a full-scale, kit airplane. Over the course of my four years, I got heavily involved and eventually became President of that organization.

I currently work at Boeing as a Structural Analysis Engineer. My path to this position began in the summer after my freshman year. I landed an internship through a family friend where I worked a tech support phone line for a local software company. I spent the summer answering customer calls, troubleshooting technical issues, and wishing I was working on airplanes. Halfway through the summer, I decided to commit every effort to landing an internship related to my major the next summer. Back on campus in the fall, I prepared for the career fair with spreadsheets of companies and internships postings. When a posting came through for one of my dream companies, Boeing, I ran over to Engineering Career Services for resume and cover letter help. A whirlwind interview process resulted in internships the next two summers – one in Product Development working on future airplane configurations, and one in structures engineering on the 787 program.

Post-graduation, I have now moved into a full-time position working on the P-8 Poseidon program. This is a 737 developed for the U.S. Navy that is used for maritime reconnaissance and tracking submarine activity in the world’s oceans. Much of what I do expands upon the material I learned in my aerospace structures classes. Looking forward, I’m excited to keep emphasizing personal, professional, and technical development – that is what keeps me motivated. I have had the opportunity to work with experienced engineers in my day-to-day work and see them participate critical design reviews. These engineers are airplane-level thinkers with a keen eye for engineering detail. They can digest a design and provide near instantaneous analysis and critique that is not at all obvious to an early-career engineer, making connections between aircraft systems, structures, aerodynamics, safety, cost, and other important aspects of aerospace design. Working towards becoming this type of engineer is one of my overarching career goals.

So many people try to get their dream job right out of college. All that will do is stress you out. It’s just so hard to do. My approach is to be passionate and proactive. Be passionate about your degree and what you are learning. Be proactive about getting out there and willing to be a little bit uncomfortable. There’s a ton of potential that you can unlock if you take initiative. For example, after my successful internship searches, I ended up working at the very office that helped me get hired – Engineering Career Services. Between this experience and my student organization leadership, I developed public speaking and leadership skills that combine with my technical skills in important ways on the job. Illinois really can set you up for success in ways you may never imagine. The key is being proactive, getting a little uncomfortable, and taking advantage of the opportunities available all across campus.

(Last Updated: March 2019)