Growing up in Pittsburgh with her house situated in a flight pattern, Rebecca DeMarco was often outside as a child watching commercial aircraft fly overhead.
She wondered how the pilot was flying the aircraft, the technology behind the displays and equipment in the cockpit, and the safety aspects involved with flying.
Now DeMarco, who graduated in May 2017 with a B.S. in Human Factors Psychology from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach Campus, has seen her life come full circle.
As a Human Factors Engineer for Honeywell Aerospace, a manufacturer of aircraft engines and avionics, as well as a producer of auxiliary power units and other aviation products, she works with a team of human factors engineers who evaluate the usability of flight deck displays. She also assists in the design, development, testing, evaluation, and certification of state-of-the-art flight decks for a variety of new and existing aircraft.
DeMarco still looks up to the sky any time she hears an aircraft and while visiting her hometown, but she now knows first-hand the work behind making them fly.
“I’m in the Human Factors field because I really care about the pilot being able to fly the aircraft well and that the display doesn’t cause any issue for him or her while they are flying,” DeMarco said. “It’s a really satisfying feeling when you know you can contribute to making sure the flight deck is usable and improving it for the pilot.”
During National Engineers Week, her message to others is: “Follow your dreams and do what you are absolutely the most passionate about and don’t let anything stop you.”
She’s still in touch with friends and professors at Embry-Riddle and helping advise another student with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Women in Engineering Student Affinity Group, which she founded at the Daytona Beach Campus in October 2015. What makes the group unique, she said, is that it’s composed of both male and female students and focuses on technical projects to build skills outside the classroom.
“I wanted to create an organization that would help improve the recruitment and retention of women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines,” DeMarco said. “I envisioned a vibrant community of men and women who collectively use their diverse talents to innovate for the benefit of humanity. It was nice to see all the guys come together to show their commitment to including women in technical disciplines.”
DeMarco, whose next goal is to get a master’s degree in software engineering, was active in numerous projects while at Embry-Riddle. For example, she served as the scrum master (Agile process facilitator), human factors lead and hardware team member for a hands-on classroom test bed to simulate challenges humans face during extended space travel to Mars. As part of the capstone design course for Electrical, Computer, Software, and Systems Engineering (ECSSE) Department her senior year, she contributed her technical knowledge and human factors skills that led to critical design decisions for the mission support system.
Dr. Richard S. Stansbury, Embry-Riddle associate professor of Computer Engineering and Computer Science, said DeMarco led the multidisciplinary team of students following the Scrum Methodology to support the Embry-Riddle’s Mobile Extreme Environment Research (MEERS) Lab in the development of a communication system. The system simulated the delay of interplanetary communications, sensors to monitor the MEERS crew environment, and a camera system to monitor and record experiments.
"This was a great experience as it provided an opportunity for students on her team to cross both departmental and college boundaries to support an active research endeavor," Dr. Stansbury said. “I am very pleased that her motivation to work on projects outside of her discipline and comfort zone has paid off with her career at Honeywell.”
For the project, she received the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award at Embry-Riddle’s Human Factors and Applied Psychology Student Conference.
While at Embry-Riddle she also interned at Kennedy Space Center and at Johnson Space Center, as well as gaining work experience at the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division as a contractor for Services Group.
She worked on the health management software for the new command and control system supporting the Space Launch System at Kennedy Space Center. She was responsible for unit testing, internal code review, modifying network displays. At Johnson Space Center, she worked on key documentation and application design regarding visualizing data from research experiments conducted on the International Space Station.
Interning at NASA was a dream for DeMarco, who recalls one of her elementary teachers encouraging her to go to NASA’s website when she craved learning even more about space than what was taught in school.
In addition to her human factors studies at Embry-Riddle, she also was a chaplain assistant and fellow for the Center for Faith and Spirituality at the Daytona Beach Campus. She was lead web developer of the interfaith devotional, photographer and provided technical support for events.
“Rebecca is just an outstanding young woman and was a rock star as a student,” said Eric Vaden, associate professor and associate chair of Human Factors and Behavioral Neurobiology, who was her academic advisor. “She took on both technical electives in software engineering and graduate courses as electives during her undergraduate education because she knew they would be more valuable to her education than simply filling her open electives with `fun’ courses. She always challenged herself academically to get every ounce of value out of her experience at Embry-Riddle and to be as prepared as possible to pursue and be successful in her career.”
DeMarco attributes her successes to faculty and staff who mentored her along the way and her supportive family who enabled her to achieve her dreams.
“Being at Embry-Riddle really helped me get the job I wanted,” DeMarco said. “There were so many people who were willing to help me achieve what I’m most passionate about, in terms of human factors, and helped guide me to realize that I could really reach my full potential.”
Editor’s Note: In honor of Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, Feb. 22, 2018, which is part of National Engineers Week, Feb. 18-24, Embry-Riddle is showcasing women in engineering and the creative, collaborative engineering efforts that can change the world.
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