Julia Francesca Santos, Class of May 2021

  • Grainger College of Engineering

Don’t be afraid to fail fast and learn faster.

In high school, I was part of a STEM program where I was exposed to engineering and that’s where I found out that I like robotics. Since engineering is applicable to a variety of industries, I knew I wanted to study something that would allow me to understand how designing a solution impacts everyone and everything around it. Systems Engineering and Design gave me that foundation.

I grew up thinking I wanted to design robots in the medical field. For my first internship, I learned about systems integration for a start-up robotics company which could be applicable for medical devices down the line. At the career fair, I got an unexpected opportunity to do an internship with United Airlines for the summer after my junior year. Even though it wasn’t in the industry I thought I wanted to work full-time in, I decided to accept the offer because it was a completely new environment with new products, and new problems to me. I always dreamed of a job that would involve me traveling to help people. Thankfully I took that internship, because I fell in love with flying and engineering solutions that help people get to their destinations.

On campus, I found my family through my department’s RSO, the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineering. They helped me see what industrial and systems engineers can do in any industry. They encouraged me to be adventurous in my studies and in everything I pursued outside of school. upperclassmen helped me understand that GPA isn’t everything; instead, I should try to find what I love working on even if it doesn’t come naturally. The support I received from that group me the courage to pursue a career in aerospace after growing up thinking differently.

While many people made a difference for me while I was at Illinois, Professor Dusan Stipanovic was particularly supportive as I took his control systems class. He stands out in my memory as a professor that was always patient, open, and understanding. I hope to be like him when people approach me with questions.

Since I decided to pursue aerospace at the beginning of my senior year, I applied for and completed a co-op at Collins Aerospace instead of graduating on a traditional four-year track. Given the company’s contributions to aerospace and its proximity to my hometown, I thought it would be a good place to start for a fresh graduate. I accepted a full-time offer as a Systems Engineer at Collins Aerospace, where I work on avionics, which are the electronics that allow aircraft to communicate, navigate, and display in the flight deck. I’m still learning every day about the different products that I can develop. For example, my team is developing software for helicopters, and since features are always changing, we have to integrate new types of hardware and software, which means the process is going to be a little different from the last time. I love the dynamic – turbulent, even – environment.

Aerospace gets you excited for what’s possible. I love traveling, and I hope to make that experience accessible and better for everyone. I want to work on projects that improve commercial airline systems and/or commercial space programs.

I’d give the same advice that was really drilled into me: don’t be afraid to fail fast and to fail as many times as you can, because that’s when you really learn. If everything works out perfectly the first time, you might not learn as much as when you have to go through trial-and-error. Similarly, don’t be afraid to try hard things. Make sure you’re connecting with a lot of people and getting outside of your comfort zone.


 (Last updated: February 24, 2022)