In episode 8 of Vaughn’s podcast, Futureproof Focus, Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo, president of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with Vaughn graduate Philip Bredu ’22 for an inspiring conversation about the value of internships, and how his passion for engineering and the sciences helped him land his current position as a test engineer at Georgia Power.
Coming to America
Born and raised in Ghana, Bredu and his brother moved to the United States to join their father, who was already living in New York at the time. At the age of 18, Bredu enrolled at Bronx Community College, where he started taking courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “Throughout my high school years in Ghana, I always gravitated toward math and physics,” he said. “It never scared me away. I knew it was something I could do.” Then Bredu received an email about a scholarship offered at Vaughn College. “I was intrigued about what I read and wanted to learn more about the College and its engineering programs.”
Bredu is the perfect example of how an internship can literally “power” your ability to land the job of your dreams. Bredu attended a career fair at Vaughn where he learned that he could use his engineering degree to work at a power company. Later, Vaughn sponsored a trip for him to attend the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) conference where he met with representatives from Georgia Power and received an internship opportunity. “I was invited to the hospitality suite at the conference where I met the supervisor at Georgia Power. After speaking with him for a short time, I was offered the internship!” Bredu said the experience was life changing as it helped him realize that working in the power industry was something he could do.
During the internship, Bredu valued the ability to work both in the office and in the field. “The hybrid schedule enabled me to learn so many different aspects of energy management. This is a dynamic career that will hold my interest for the long term.”
After the internship, Bredu was offered a permanent position at Georgia Power. In 2022, he graduated from Vaughn with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and was ready to start his career as a test engineer. “Moving to Georgia by myself and leaving my family was a challenging time for me,” he said. “It was a total lifestyle change from living in New York, but I’m adjusting. I love my job.”
A day in the life of a test engineer
“You never stop learning. This job teaches you the importance of being a good listener and asking questions.” When Dr. DeVivo asked him if he would recommend working in the power industry, Bredu responded with an enthusiastic, “yes!” “There’s always something new and exciting to learn about,” he explained. “Today’s customers are interested in solar, wind and sustainable energy. Working as a test engineer is a dream come true for me. It’s a diversified job that requires different skills. If you’re looking for a hands-on, intense and exciting career, becoming a test engineer is the job for you. You’ll never be bored.”
Engineering is an excellent field to get into because it offers a wide range of career opportunities across a variety of industries with stability and endless growth potential. What’s more is that new and emerging technologies are creating new roles in engineering every day. So check out Vaughn’s engineering and technology program and set your sights on an incredible future.
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.
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!”
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.”
Read more about how Kirei landed her dream job here.
Growing up around the airline industry and following in her father’s footsteps was all the inspiration Courtney Scott ’21 needed to put her on track to earning a mechanical engineering degree (aeronautical) at Vaughn College—and ultimately landing a job as an engineer at Delta Air Lines.
Growing up with a Vaughn grad
Scott always had a passion for airplanes—and for good reason. Her father, Norman, not only worked in the airline industry as an aircraft mechanic for the past 25 years, but he also graduated from Vaughn College with a bachelor’s degree in aircraft technology (the program is now known as aviation maintenance). Growing up in Wellington, Florida, Scott said she was always fascinated with airplanes and contemplated how to make them better and more efficient. Because of this curiosity, she said her father always encouraged her to become an engineer. “The decision to apply to Vaughn was an easy one,” Scott said. “I grew up hearing my dad say wonderful things about the College and how it paved the way for his career. I knew attending Vaughn would be the right decision for me, too.”
Continuing the Vaughn legacy
In the fall of 2014, Scott moved to New York and enrolled in the associate of applied science aeronautical engineering technology degree program at Vaughn. “I needed a fresh start after high school,” she said. “Vaughn was the perfect place to focus my attention on a rewarding future in a field that I love.” Scott made the most of her time at Vaughn, where she studied hard, played sports and joined the Society of Women Engineers. “Vaughn helped me to be a better person,” she said humbly. “The faculty, staff, coaches and my friends were the greatest support system I could have asked for.” While she was working toward her associate degree, a string of unfortunate events occurred that caused her to withdraw from the program for a few years. “It took me seven years to get through my education,” Scott explained. “My grandmother passed away and I withdrew from the program for a while. In 2017, I started the program again, but had to leave due to financial hardship. I knew God had a plan for me. I was not giving up.” In 2019, Scott was determined to finish her associate degree and begin working toward her bachelor’s degree.
Keeping her sights on the future
While working toward her bachelor’s degree, Scott worked part-time as a ramp agent for Delta Air Lines at John F. Kennedy International Airport. “It was challenging going to school full-time while working, but I loved every minute of it. It was rewarding—not to mention—a great experience.”
As graduation grew near, she reached out to the career services department at Vaughn who helped her with her résumé and job search. “I attended all the résumé workshops and did everything in my power to position myself to land my dream job,” Scott said proudly. In May of 2021, she graduated from Vaughn and was given a chance to interview with Delta Air Lines that same month. “I received a call from Delta in June offering me the job!” exclaimed Scott. “All my hard work finally paid off!” She moved to Atlanta in late June and started her position as a PW4000 Components and Externals Engineer at Delta Air Lines in early July. “I work on the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 high-thrust aircraft engines, relating to all of the external components that are on the plane’s engine,” Scott explained. “I always wanted a job where I could find solutions to make better airplanes. I want to thank the career services department at Vaughn for being instrumental in helping me land my dream job.”
Message to her peers
Although Scott was successful in finding the job of her dreams, she said the path was not an easy one. “For anyone out there who thinks they can’t find their way, I want to be the first one to tell you: Never give up—you can do it.” At 25 years old, her advice comes from the heart. “My message is simple: Stay focused, learn from everyone, never be afraid to ask questions, and know that you can have anything you want in this life as long as you believe in yourself. Look at me. I have everything I’ve ever hoped for. I have God, my family, and Vaughn to thank for it all.”
From humble beginnings as he learned the English language to working as a SpaceX engineer, Joan Cruz ’20, a Vaughn College mechanical engineering graduate chronicles how his career path found him in a way he least expected.
Coming to America
At the age of seven, Cruz moved to the United States with his mother from the Dominican Republic to join his father and sister who had settled in Maryland. He attended elementary school with the added challenge of learning the English language. Cruz said within six months he broke the language barrier and began making friends. Shortly after, they moved to Queens, New York where Cruz went on to attend Forest Hills High School. “My parents worked hard to give me and my sister a good life in the United States,” Cruz said. “I am grateful to my parents for their efforts to give us the opportunity for a better life.”
Finding his way
Throughout high school, Cruz said he was an average student who did not have a clear vision of what career path he wanted to pursue. “My father encouraged me to become an engineer. He saw something in me that I didn’t—a vision and problem-solving skills that would be best applied in an engineering career. Sadly, I didn’t have the confidence then,” he admitted. “I didn’t think I was engineering material.” Little did Cruz realize that within a few short years he would be working as an engineer for Space Exploration Technologies Corp—which is more popularly known as ‘SpaceX.’
What Cruz did know, however, was that he wanted to live an independent life. At the age of 18, shortly after graduating from Forest Hills High School, he joined the United States Army. “I needed direction and discipline in my life,” he said humbly. “I needed to grow up.” He explained how boot camp was the hardest thing he ever experienced in his life but was well worth it. During his three years of service, Cruz worked as a diesel mechanic in a combat engineering unit. “I loved working as a mechanic,” he said. “I was thrust into this field and discovered talents I didn’t know I had.” Unfortunately, Cruz suffered an injury that cut his military service short. “I was disappointed my time in the army was coming to an end, but I was excited to begin a new chapter in my life. Working as an engineer seemed like it could become a reality. It was then that I discovered Vaughn College.”
During his last six months of military service, Cruz began researching colleges that had a focus on engineering and aerospace. “As far-fetched as becoming an engineer was for me then, becoming a pilot was even more of a dream—but one I took seriously,” he said. He applied to several colleges and decided on Vaughn to pursue his engineering and aerospace career. In the fall of 2017, Cruz began the mechanical engineering degree program at Vaughn. He explained how the program, although challenging, gave him the skills to land his job as an associate engineer at SpaceX. Cruz pointed out two of his favorite things about Vaughn: The one-on-one relationship students have with their professors and the small class sizes. “The opportunity to ask questions without judgment and faculty support were driving factors in my success,”he said. “I admit I needed some motivation to keep the momentum going. College is a test of your skills, and Vaughn has the perfect formula to cultivate a student’s success.”
During his time at Vaughn, Cruz was a proud member of the Vaughn student chapter of Engineers Without Borders. He, along with three other Vaughn engineering and technology students, were part of the team led by Miguel Bustamante, PhD, assistant professor of engineering and technology. Together, the group visited the African country of Rwanda to test water supplies in the village of Kibingo. (Read more about their incredible efforts here.)
Cruz completed his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in less than four years—but not without earning his pilot’s license, too! “The military ‘can do’ mentality gave me the discipline and determination to work through the summer and both my winter and spring breaks to earn my pilot’s license by my senior year,” he said triumphantly.
‘Launching’ his career
Cruz was determined to land a job before graduating from Vaughn. He sent out several job applications, including one to SpaceX for the position of associate engineer. To his surprise, he received an invitation to interview with SpaceX. Over the course of two months, the excitement and anticipation grew as Cruz completed four interviews in the hope of landing the job at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. In November 2020, Cruz was offered the position of a lifetime, and he moved to Cape Canaveral right after graduating from Vaughn. “I was over the moon to hear the news that I would be working at my dream job,” he said excitedly. Cruz’s responsibilities included working on all hardware for launch pads, tooling and rocket recovery. “I’m convinced that my combined experience and knowledge that I gained at Vaughn, earning my pilot’s license, the Rwanda project with Engineers Without Borders and my veteran work experience were the winning combination to landing my current job.”
Living the dream
After only three months, Cruz was promoted to the position of manufacturing engineer at SpaceX, where his responsibilities include delivering a fully scalable working piece of hardware for a successful SpaceX rocket launch manifest, among other tasks. “The magnitude of responsibility is immense,” he explained. “We all work long hours, but we love every minute of it.” Cruz points out how SpaceX is a positive environment where everyone takes ownership of their work and has an integral part of the process. “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” he said emphatically. “If you told me years ago that I would be working as an engineer—building launch hardware components for rocket ships—I would have told you you’re crazy,” laughed Cruz. “I believe everything happens for a reason. Joining the army, and then finding Vaughn were the steppingstones I needed to launch a career I could only dream of.”
Do you have a passion for engineering or aviation? A degree from Vaughn College can be your launching pad for a futureproof career. Apply today!
What do the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Panama Canal all have in common? If you said they are among some of the top engineering wonders of the modern world, you are correct—so get ready to see one of the latest to hit the stage!
Check out the engineering wonder of The Guitar Hotel at Seminole Hard Rock and Casino in Hollywood, Florida—the world’s first guitar-shaped hotel and the most unique structure to climb the stairway to the sky.
In October 2019, the 35-story, 638-room Guitar Hotel made its solo debut, soaring 450 feet into the skies of South Florida. This architectural wonder took three years to create and is part of the $1.5 billion expansion of the flagship casino resort of Hard Rock International, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The hotel is designed to resemble back-to-back guitars. The neck of the guitar extends 75 feet above the roof with light cannons blazing through. Illuminated strings, guitar faces, and floor-to-ceiling glass panels complete the look of a jam that will have you yelling: “Encore!”
So, why the guitar shape? A hotel operations executive explained how the guitar has worldwide recognition as a symbol of music. Additionally, it is the iconic symbol of the Hard Rock. Designed in collaboration with Klai Juba Wald Architects of Las Vegas, De Simone Consulting Engineers worked in strict coordination through all design specialties to complete this challenging, exciting and rewarding project.
How did they build that?
The architectural and engineering genius behind this amazing structure involved skills and expertise across several engineering and construction platforms. Tight controls and flexible designs were key components throughout the project. Experts in the areas of structural, mechanical, electrical and civil engineering—along with contractors in the construction and related industries—combined forces to meet the demands of this challenging project with its “sexy curves.” Here is a snapshot of how they built this one-of-a-kind guitar-shaped hotel:
Detailed models of the guitar tower—The models of the guitar tower and other on-site projects were critical decision-making tools to address logistical challenges and ensure precision.
Preparing the site for construction—A multiacre retention pond was filled in, along with the excavation of another pond, to create balance of onsite water retention. Crews used vibro compaction to prepare the site for construction and this allowed them to begin vertical construction.
Laying the foundation—Concrete companies partnered to install 36,000 cubic yards of concrete that were used on the guitar tower. Meticulous detail was required for in-slab coordination to ensure that embeds for the curtain wall system, slab edges, plumbing sleeves, mechanical system openings and other openings were precise.
Structural design—Nine inch thick, post-tensioned slabs were used on levels four through-28 to allow for thinner floor plates. This system allowed the crew to install the curtain wall and the guitar shaped design. This was a critical step to ensure the curtain wall embeds were precisely located on the slab edge.
Addressing the curves—Several columns needed to be sloped by as much as 40 degrees, since each floor narrows and widens in the guitar shape. Additional thrust reinforcement was designed into the slabs to help hold back horizontal forces from sloping columns.
Height restrictions—The hotel property lies within the flight path of Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Design teams worked cautiously to save inches anywhere they could to maximize space for the hotel rooms. More inches could potentially turn into additional floors, thus jeopardizing the height restriction of the structure.
Cost consideration—As you can imagine, a project of this magnitude required laser-focused cost management. The team used 3D, 4D (time) and 5D (schedule) to communicate their ideas about the project.
How an engineering degree from Vaughn can be music to your ears
The Guitar Hotel at Seminole Hard Rock and Casino is one of today’s coolest and innovative examples of engineering at its finest. As you can see, the field of engineering and technology continues to play a critical role in defining modern day life and society. As technology and infrastructure continue to develop at a rapid rate, the demand for well-trained electrical, mechanical, and mechatronic engineers is greater than ever. Vaughn’s industry-focused degrees and add-on certifications will prepare you for an ever-changing and dynamic career in your chosen field.