Apr 26, 2017

Q&A With Alum Margaret Owen

Spotlight Date:
April 27, 2017
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Although Class of 2010 Margaret Owen spent her time at Dreyfoos as a theatre major, her interest in astronauts started when she was much younger. After graduating, she headed to the University of Florida where she earned a B.S. in both Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. After interning at Honeywell Aerospace, United Launch Alliance (ULA), and NASA, she is now a Control Dynamics Engineer for ULA where she just got assigned as the mission engineer for a NASA rocket that is heading to Mars.
Q: Favorite Dreyfoos (SOA) teachers?
A: Wayne Miller, Dennis Sims (RIP), and Ed Blanchette.
I learned so much about life and about myself from them! They helped shape my life and personality in so many ways.
Q: What is the most profound change you experienced at Dreyfoos (SOA)?
A: I put so much pressure on myself all the time to be perfect (which is impossible). I learned in theatre by reading plays and monologues, that the most non-perfect people were the most beautiful characters to play. It was their imperfections that made them dynamic/interesting characters, and I started to realize that my imperfections make me beautiful in my own way too! This led to a lot of self-acceptance and a decrease in the people pleasing aspect of my personality.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to study and pursue a career in Aerospace Engineering?
A: I have wanted to be an astronaut since I was 9 years old. Somewhere at Dreyfoos I was in between wanting to be a playwright and still wanting to be an astronaut. I took the plunge by applying to summer programs between my junior and senior year for theatre, and physics. I got accepted to both programs I applied for, and had to make a choice. I decided to do the physics route with the PBCC (PBSC now I think?) MSI (Math Science Institute) that counted for college credit, and had a course taught by an Aerospace Engineer from Pratt and Whitney (now Aerojet Rocketdyne). I never even knew engineering could be a path for me. So I decided “Well if I can’t touch the stars myself, I might as well help others touch them for me.” The rest is history!
Q: How do you believe your education in Theatre has benefitted you in your current career?
A: Theatre taught me how to communicate with others. It taught me how to formulate my words, thoughts, and emotions into coherent sentences. I’ve been told several times that I “speak too well” to be an engineer. In the STEM fields, you can be the smartest “book smart” person in the room, but if you can’t communicate your ideas with others, then you’re basically useless. If no one can understand what you are saying, then how are you going to pitch your idea, or talk about how something works? That comes two fold, meaning, being able to speak in front of others, and being able to know your audience well enough to explain it.
Q: Is there something Dreyfoos (SOA) could have provided that would have better prepared you for college or your career?
A: Honestly, I can’t think of anything. Most of my lack of preparation for STEM classes came from taking too many arts classes my junior and senior year.
Q: What does your work focus on at United Launch Alliance?
A: I am a “Control Dynamics Engineer.” I design the autopilot for each mission I am assigned. Our rockets are automated, so I have to make sure the autopilot will get the rocket where it needs to go. Once it’s off the launchpad, it’s gone. There’s no turning back. I also do a lot of modeling like spacecraft separation, etc. If you were driving down the street, basically my job is to automate/design the human being behind the steering wheel of the car (in this case the rocket). Right now I am supporting a mission for a government payload that will launch in August, and today I just got assigned as the mission engineer for NASA Insight, which is going to Mars!
Q: Previously you were an intern at NASA, tell us about that experience.
A: That was so cool! I got to work on the next NASA rocket, SLS (Space Launch System), as a Guidance Engineer. I was working with engineers that were on Wernher von Braun’s original team! I was at the same facility that designed the Saturn V rocket! For a rocket nerd, it was really cool.
Q: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
A: I got to say “Go” for the launch system/mission I supported in Cape Canaveral when I worked down there as an intern! It was the GPS-IIF 10 launch, on an Atlas V. My voice is on the Youtube video of the launch, and my whole family called me afterwards asking “Was that you!?”
Q: Have you had the opportunity to work with any other Dreyfoos (SOA) alums?
A: In school at UF, yes! I got to work on projects in design classes with a Dreyfoos Band alum. In the work place, no, because with an engineering degree, there’s a LOT of options to choose in terms of career path.
Q: What recommendations do you have for our current DSOA students?
A: Do what genuinely makes you happy! The best things in life are not risk free, and are not easy. If being an actor makes you happy, but you are scared of being an artist for monetary reasons, don’t back down! Your job is 8-10 hours out of your day and part of your life. Make sure those 8-10 hours are spent doing something you absolutely love and are passionate about. If you love what you do, then you don’t work a day in your life.
Q: In a brief statement can you explain “What Dreyfoos (SOA) means to me”?
A: Dreyfoos means passion to me. Every person I encountered at school was really passionate, and excited about their craft and their genre. That passion taught me what “drive” and “hard work” means.
Hopefully someday we will all touch the stars, and I hope to be a part of the team that makes that happen!