Bridgette Barden's soccer career at Stevens has been truly remarkable: four consecutive years as an National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-East Region selection, an NSCAA Scholar All-Region selection as a senior with a 3.76 GPA, and a team-leading seven goals (including five game-winners) in her final season as she helped pace the Ducks to a 13th consecutive postseason appearance.
Yet "it has always been 'school first' for me," says the Redondo Beach, California native, who graduates in spring 2014 with a degree in chemical engineering and a new position in her hometown as a systems engineer with defense and aerospace giant Northrop Grumman — a firm she had come to know well as an intern, and one with long ties to Stevens.
"I’m so excited about this position for two reasons," she says of her upcoming role with the company. "First, it is in the defense industry, and if any part of my job helps the men and women defending our country, I can feel good about the work I do. Second, I am very interested in complex systems and am always impressed by the incredible intricacy of many of these projects."
Barden first caught Stevens coach Jeff Parker's eye during a 2009 recruiting trip to northern California. Learning of her strong interest in math and science, Parker invited her east to visit the Stevens campus.
"Being able to pursue engineering and also a competitive soccer career were key for me," Barden says of her choice to attend Stevens. "School and family always come first for me, but soccer is next. And when I arrived for the visit, it just felt right. The campus was beautiful, and it was a very positive experience being here."
She arrived in mid-August for preseason soccer practice, forming friendships before classes had even begun. Once coursework began, the rigor and emphasis on teamwork were an eye-opener.
"When they told us, in my first Design I lab, 'you're going to build a robot,' I thought they were joking," she laughs. "So it was amazing to go home for Christmas just a few months later and share with my family all that I had learned and done. And, yes, I was part of a team that built a robot!"
After a busy freshman year of hitting the books, she secured a prized internship with Northrop Grumman working on a systems engineering team managing payloads for satellites, a summer that would foretell her future. (She would later perform additional internships with the company supporting the next space telescope and semiconductor operations.)
"I was really fortunate to receive that first internship," she says. "It played a big role in shaping what I want to do in my career. I really took a liking to it."
In her role as a full-time systems engineer with the firm, Barden will support system architecture design and system-level trade studies in addition to performing technical planning, system integration, verification and validation, cost and risk, and supportability and effectiveness analyses of systems. Eventually she plans to return to school to acquire graduate training in systems engineering.
"The systems engineering discipline is applicable to both the air and the space sides. Finding where I want to make an impact might take a little time, but I have been placed in the program that performs space systems engineering for military satellites, and I am excited. I will learn a lot," Barden points out.
The Stevens Design Spine curriculum prepared her exceptionally well for her career, she adds, teaching interdisciplinary teamwork on projects from the beginning and presenting a wide variety of technical challenges from robot-building to the design of a chemical plants through simulation systems for students to work out together.
"It has been very inspiring," notes Barden.
Outside the classroom, she took time to become active with the Stevens campus chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, which is gradually increasing its outreach to local schoolchildren.
"It's important to connect with girls when they are young, to show them what the engineering field will look like when they arrive in it, to spark their interest. When I was in high school I knew I wanted to be a chemical engineer, but I had absolutely no idea what chemical engineers really did," Barden says.
And why did she wish to become a chemical engineer?
"I think," she concludes, "I was just one of those kids who always asked 'why?' And making things work better, making new things that work well, making systems and processes work more efficiently, is what the Stevens education is all about."