Graduate Blends Military, Corporate Experience to Provide Insight to Defense Innovation Unit

Embry-Riddle Alumni: Arpit Mehta

Arpit Mehta graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Prescott campus in 2009 majoring in Aerospace Engineering. Today, Arpit works for the Defense Innovation Unit as a Subject Matter Expert, collaborating with commercial vendors to bring new technology to the US Military. Arpit discusses his career trajectory after graduating, what makes him successful, and shares his employment search advice.

Discuss your career path since graduating from ERAU.

I graduated from ERAU (Prescott Campus ’09) in Aerospace Engineering (aero). I was always fascinated with Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) and the work that was happening out there, especially on unmanned aircraft technology. I started out my career at Edwards AFB and worked for about 5 years as a Flight Test Engineer on multiple manned and unmanned military aircraft platforms. I utilized this time to gain the expertise in the Test & Evaluation field and also got opportunities to attend courses at National Test Pilot School and USAF Test Pilot School, which aided in polishing my knowledge and skillset. After my time at Edwards AFB, I moved to San Diego, CA and joined one of the leading Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) companies, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. where I worked as a Senior Systems Test & Qualifications engineer. I worked on Army MQ-1C Gray Eagle autonomous UAS and gained significant experience doing Hardware-in-the-loop and Software-in-the-loop testing. Working at GA-ASI was crucial in my career as it showed me what end-to-end system level testing would look like.

After some time working on the military platforms, I wanted to expand my knowledge in the corporate world, so I joined Amazon Prime Air Research and Development group. Working in this start-up environment was probably one of the best decisions in my career as it pushed my boundaries and made me realize of my own capabilities. I was responsible for developing flight test methodologies for our aircraft and autonomy development group. Being on the cutting edge also got me exposed to working with scientists who are experts in Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML).

My recent work was at Boeing Defense working as a Flight Test Director on multiple international programs supporting Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) program.

Currently, I work as a Subject Matter Expert for Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) supporting multiple portfolios (e.g.: Autonomy, AI/ML, etc.) – my current work is focused on working with commercial vendors to accelerate the cutting-edge technology (e.g.: Counter UAS technology, Flying Taxi, Robotics, etc.) for the US Military acquisition.

What do you attribute to your success?

I would say there are many things that I can attribute to my success.

  • Networking: During my time at ERAU, I networked a lot. I reached out to just random people and invited them for a cup of coffee because I genuinely wanted to learn. Probably 8/10 people didn’t even respond back, but trying was important.
  • Enthusiasm: One of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill – “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm”. At some point in your life, things may not go as planned – being able to accept failure, understand it, and learn from it without losing the passion and enthusiasm in your field is important.
  • Relationships: During my career, I got the opportunity to be part of diverse group of people with many opinions, characteristics, temperament, etc. – but it took me a while to realize in my career how important it is to build good trustworthy relationships within the team that you are in. It takes time and it takes genuine effort, and there were times when those efforts were in vain, but the important thing I felt was important was to care

What challenges did you have to overcome and what did you learn from those experiences?

Like many others, I have gone through personal and professional challenges. One of the biggest challenge for me was to assimilate in a new culture in a new country. I had to deal with racism and bullying while in high school and making friends was not easy due to language barrier. I also had to take on many family responsibilities at a very early age and managing that was difficult as it affected my grades. During my professional career, I had to deal with difficult coworkers and bad managers. But as I went through these experiences in my personal and professional life, I analyzed each of those situations and learned from them to make myself better. It is very easy to point finger and blame the situation or circumstances, but when you have a progressive outlook, you will always have to look at how you could have made things better for your own self development. My first step was to accept the situation that I was in and then learning to make the best of that situation.

Another thing that helped me was having a goal. It allowed me to be focused and helped me navigate through difficult times. During my career, I focused on character building along with working hard. I started developing character building qualities such as positive attitude, gratefulness, humbleness, and composure. I cannot stress enough on how important these qualities become in your professional life, especially when you are moving up in responsibility.

Do you believe your degree from ERAU helped you progress in your career trajectory? (explain, why)

Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind and I would give full-credit to ERAU curriculum and the teaching environment. I think you can get a “degree” (piece of paper) from any college, but I truly believe that ERAU truly helped me in shaping the way I think about problems. I remember spending hours with our professors in their office discussing about topics on Thermodynamics and Rocket Propulsion. The kind of attention and quality that I received from ERAU was just unparalleled. Another thing that took me by surprise was how well-known ERAU is within the Aerospace industry.

What advice do you have for others who are searching for employment?

  • Network: If you are searching for a position, you will significantly increase your chances if you network with industry professionals. I once flew to Florida on my own dime for a career event on Daytona Beach Campus, so don’t be afraid to go outside and think outside the box. Leverage platforms like LinkedIn and connect with industry professionals, doesn’t matter who they are (engineer or a Vice President). Network with people who are alumni and you might have a better response rate. If you don’t try, you will never know. My first job after graduating was purely a result of networking – I wanted to work at Edwards AFB, and I networked with them for almost 2 years. There will be times when you won’t hear back from them, but keep trying, because it only takes one.
  • Passion: When you are passionate about something, you start going out of the way to learn and do things. So dive deep into your field or your subject and show what you really care about. I use to read every magazine on aerospace and would be up to date on current events. I loved watching history channel and air crash investigations because it mesmerized me. Eventually, these things will give you talking points and people will be able to see your passion in your conversation.
  • Interview Prep: I cannot recommend enough on interview prep. You could be the smartest person or have a stellar GPA, but if you cannot communicate well, it will be challenging to find employment. If you google STAR interview method, there are many articles that you can read about, but more than that, you need to practice and have mock interviews. Being able to answer a simple question like “tell me about yourself” in 30 seconds will take you a long way. Becoming good at interviews takes practice – if you had a bad interview, reflect on it, and work on those weaknesses.
  • Confidence: Don’t lose confidence if you messed up an interview or were not able to answer well. Learning from it and improving on it is very critical to move forward.
This interview originally appeared in the Career Services Going Places blog.