In the first episode of our new podcast, Futureproof Focus, Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo, president of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with Vaughn graduate Kirei Watson ’18 for an enlightening conversation about breaking barriers and following your dreams. Sit back to hear how Kirei is forging new pathways as she takes us on her journey that led to her current job at Collins Aerospace.

A passion for aviation

From an early age, Kirei was obsessed with earth science and dreamed of becoming a pilot. While in high school, she attended an open house at Vaughn. This open house visit opened her eyes to a futureproof career in aviation. As a first step to “getting her feet wet in the field,” Kirei enrolled at Vaughn, where she earned an Associate of Applied Science in Aeronautical Engineering Technology. Her drive to become a pilot shifted toward engineering, and on the advice of one of her professors, Kirei switched gears and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Through it all, however, she remained focused on pursuing a career in aviation.

Embracing diversity

As a Black woman in a male-dominated field, Kirei knew she would have to work to break barriers in order to get to where she wanted to be. She credits Vaughn for being an institution of diversity and said she never felt like she didn’t belong. “My passion and obsession of being analytical drove me to overcome adversity,” Kirei said. And like Dr. DeVivo says, “Diversity is Vaughn’s superpower!”

Attending professional conferences such as the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers was a pivotal point in her college career. “It was overwhelming at first to see so many attendees from across the country, but then I realized there’s other people here just like me. It was very insightful.”

Landing the job at Collins Aerospace

Kirei discovered Collins Aerospace while attending the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers national convention. She explained how the “everything but the engine” approach was what excited her the most about working at Collins. Currently, Kirei has the position of engineering and technology rotational program engineer. “Working at Collins was a no-brainer!” she said. As part of the rotational program, she works with a mentor who guides her in which jobs to take. “I pick the jobs I want to work on which is great,” she explained.

She is currently working in San Diego, California, and said she loves how the rotational program allows her to gain knowledge and experience in many aspects of engineering—especially learning about the consumer side of the industry. From a diversity point of view, she said Collins gave her a sense of belonging—despite being a minority. Of the company’s 15,000 employees, only 322 are Black women, Kirei noted. “It’s rewarding to know that you’re breaking barriers,” she said. “It’s all about your passion, being fully invested in what you believe in and knowing that what you bring to the table matters.”

How Vaughn prepared her for success

Kirei said she wouldn’t be where she is today without the support and guidance of her Vaughn professors and mentors. She describes one of her standout moments at Vaughn being when a professor explained how it’s important to be “…intentional with what you’re studying.” It’s all about knowing how to execute the step-by-step process.

Her advice to aspiring engineers

Kirei believes that being honest with yourself is one of the most important ways to get to where you want to be. She mentions the “imposter syndrome” as something she experienced when she first took the job. “It’s intimidating at first when no one looks like you.” The key to staying, she said, is to remember that you earned your place.

Her advice to any Black woman who has a dream or passion: “Just do it! Let the passion drive you.”

You can watch the podcast in its entirety here.

Read more about how Kirei landed her dream job here.


While companies are investing billions of dollars to bring a true autonomous vehicle to the consumer market, today’s drivers are enjoying some cool self-driving technology that is available as either standard equipment or as options on newer cars. You may even be driving one now!

So, the question remains: Does a self-driving car really drive itself? The answer is a bit more complex than the question. Let’s just say that autonomous vehicles may in time give new meaning to the term “back seat driver.”

This month, we explore the latest advancements in self-driving cars and the autonomous features that experts predict will eventually shift autonomous vehicles into the fast lane.

Accelerating into the future

According to the Global Forecast report, the global self-driving car market is expected to grow to 62.4 million units by 2030—up from 20.3 million units in 2021. With revenue projected to reach nearly $326 billion by the end of 2030, the automotive industry is laser-focused on developing driver assistance systems that will pave the way for self-driving cars. Although, fully autonomous vehicles are still years away, some car makers have promised self-driving cars to be available to buy as early as 2024.

What is a self-driving car?

Autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, are driven by digital technology and use driverless assistance systems powered by artificial intelligence (AI). With the growing demand for safety as well as environmental factors, this technology is geared toward producing safer cars that can avoid the risk of accidents and help reduce energy consumption—not to mention insurance costs.

Why safety is driving the market

Consumers are all about putting safety first—especially when it comes to their cars. That’s why safety features continue to be a deciding factor when choosing a vehicle. And this safety concern applies not only to drivers in the U.S., but across the globe. The driver support technology of today is designed to help reduce the workload of anyone who operates a car. Were you aware, for instance, that driver error is the cause of over 94 percent of all vehicle accident deaths? To help assist drivers—and reduce the number of accidents—governments across the world have mandated that certain driver support systems be incorporated into cars. These mandated safety features include:

  • Lane departure warning (LDW)
  • Automatic emergency braking (AEB)

Other popular (but not mandatory) driver support features are:

  • Intelligent or adaptive cruise control
  • Hands-free capability

Levels of self-driving technology

In order to get a better understanding of where the industry stands on the self-driving car spectrum, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has broken everything down by sorting the technologies into six levels (from 0-to-5).

Levels 0 – 2: Driver support features

  • Level 0: Driver must be present to react to a warning or threat. For example, the car may be equipped with sensors, blind-spot alert system or lane-departure warning but has no self-driving capability.
  • Level 1: Driver support technology, such as a lane-keeping system, is considered Level 1 technology. This feature can slightly intervene to help steer the car to the center of a lane.
  • Level 2: Level 2 systems are the most sophisticated technology that’s currently sold on cars in the U.S. Although these cars allow drivers to take their hands briefly off the steering wheel, they must keep their eyes focused on the road at all times and be ready to take control of their vehicles immediately.

Levels 3 – 5: Autonomous capabilities

  • Level 3: A vehicle ranked at Level 3 can drive itself in a restricted scenario. The driver must be present and ready, however, to take over the controls when prompted.
  • Level 4: A vehicle with a Level 4 system can drive itself, but only under “perfect conditions,” such as a fixed loop on known roads. These vehicles may or may not have a steering wheel or pedals. Level 4 rideshare vehicles, such as Waymo’s (formerly Google’s self-driving car project), are in operation with limited use.
  • Level 5: A car at Level 5 will be able to drive itself on any road, in any conditions—and without any restrictions. To date, this car exists only in theory.

Are you revved up about self-driving cars? Pursuing an engineering degree at Vaughn College is a great start to find a career as an engineer in this exciting and futureproof industry. There are many engineering occupations related to the development of self-driving cars including:

  • Electrical engineer: works with anything involving electricity in the car
  • Mechanical engineer: works with vehicle mechanics and design
  • Robotics engineer: works on robots that power the car and integrated technologies
  • Validation engineer: works to test and validate the computing platforms
  • Sensor system engineer: works with sensor systems such as radar, lidar, GPS, sonar and cameras
  • Systems engineer: maintains wireless and aerospace satellite communication systems and cloud computing systems
  • Computer programmer: writes and tests computer programming code

Professionals in the self-driving car industry require strong mathematical, analytical and computer engineering skills and there’s great earning potential. Many companies around the world are actively working on autonomous vehicle technology such as Waymo, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Ford, BMW and Toyota.

You can also check out our blog, “Engineering Ranked Among Most Valuable College Majors” to discover even more possibilities of a Vaughn engineering degree. Apply today!

The race is on for the return of supersonic air travel. With the reality that supersonic jets could once again be “on the horizon,” aviation corporations and travel enthusiasts alike are gearing up for an exciting ride.

This month, we take a closer look at the latest developments in supersonic air travel and how soon it may be before you could be whisked away to your next destination.

History repeating itself

It’s been nearly 50 years since Concorde—the first supersonic commercial jetliner—began flying passengers across the Atlantic in 1976. Built by a joint venture between aviation manufacturers in Great Britain and France, the historic supersonic plane had a maximum speed that was over twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.04 (Mach 1 is the speed of sound), or 1,354 mph at cruising altitude. Concorde—which had seating up to 128 passengers—was retired in 2003, leaving travelers wondering if they would ever experience the thrill of supersonic flight again. Until now.

A supersonic future

Last month, Canadian jet company Bombardier introduced the Global 8000 private aircraft—the world’s fastest and longest-range purpose-built business jet that is also equipped with the industry’s healthiest cabin for safety and comfort. As a global leader in business aviation, Bombardier announced the Global 8000 aircraft as the only true four-zone cabin business jet to have a range of 8,000 nautical miles (9,206 miles) and a top speed of Mach 0.94—making it the fastest business jet in the skies. Eric Martel, president and chief executive officer at Bombardier stated: “The Global 8000 aircraft leverage the outstanding attributes of the Global 7500 aircraft, providing our customers with a flagship aircraft of a new era.” Last year, the Global 7500 broke through the sound barrier during a test flight when it reached a top speed of Mach 1.015, while accompanied by a NASA F/A chase plane. The Global 8000 aircraft is expected to enter service in 2025.

Commercial travelers will have to wait a few more years before flying the supersonic airways—but it will be worth it. Imagine flying from New York to London in less than four hours, or from San Francisco to Tokyo in six? Boom Supersonic, a Denver-based company, is designing the Overture—the world’s fastest commercial airliner that will cut travel time in half—for the price of a first-class ticket. Boom Supersonic is committed to designing Overture for the purpose of meeting industry-leading standards in speed, safety and sustainability. This historic airliner will be carbon-neutral, using 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). And when it comes to speed, the Overture will break the sound barrier—and then some. With speeds expected to reach Mach 1.7, the Overture can accommodate up to 88 passengers and take them on a supersonic journey to explore more of the world via more than 500 transoceanic routes. Blake Scholl, founder and chief executive officer of Boom Supersonic stated: “We believe in a world where more people can go to more places, more often. Sustainable supersonic travel unlocks new possibilities for business relationships, prospects for vacation and opportunities for human connection.” Overture is expected to begin flying commercially by 2030.

Getting on board with supersonic

In June 2021, United Airlines became the first U.S. airline to enter into an aircraft purchase agreement with Boom Aviation when it ordered 15 supersonic planes with a goal of having them be able to carry passengers in 2029. Additionally, United Airlines agreed to an option to purchase up to 50 more supersonic jets—once the company has achieved successful production of a plane that can fly faster than the speed of sound. Mike Leskinen, vice president for corporate development at United Airlines stated: “At 60,000 feet with big windows, it’s going to be an amazing experience.”

Lowering the boom

Despite the excitement surrounding supersonic air travel, one of the biggest challenges manufacturers will face is reducing the sonic boom, which is the strong sound wave that is produced when an aircraft flies faster than the speed of sound. Today in the U.S and other countries, commercial supersonic flight is banned over land, although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working on changing that. In 2020, the agency established a designated corridor over Kansas where civilian supersonic aircraft could be tested. Sonic booms are not only loud and disruptive to civilians, but they are known to shatter windows and cause injuries. It is for these reasons that the Concorde was restricted to flying above oceans.

Who can fly a supersonic airliner?

Currently, there are no supersonic airliners approved to fly over the land. Any new aircraft would need to meet current airworthiness and noise certification requirements set forth by the FAA. That being said, training required of pilots to fly supersonic airliners is still being confirmed, however, military fighter pilots would likely be the most qualified to fly faster than the speed of sound.

Do you have a passion for flight? The ongoing pilot shortage is making this career one of the most sought-after in the industry. Vaughn College has degrees in aviation that can help you earn your wings for a futureproof career. Apply today!