For the past 10 years, Alejandro Salado was quite content living in Europe and working in the space industry there. But something changed while he was pursuing his Ph.D. in systems engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology.
Prior to attending Stevens, the Spanish-born Salado was educated exclusively in Europe, earning multiple degrees – an integrated bachelor’s and master’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering, along with a second master’s in electronics engineering and a third master’s in project management – from the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in his native Spain. He also received a fourth master’s degree in space systems engineering from the Technical University of Delft, Netherlands.
A desire to improve his knowledge of systems engineering and to become an industry expert in the field grew out of his career development, explains Salado.
During his decade-long career in the space industry, Salado lived and worked in Spain, the Netherlands and Germany as electronics engineer, systems engineer and project manager.
Most recently, he worked as a systems engineer at OHB System AG of Germany. And before that, he was a satellite systems engineer for EADS Astrium GmbH, (now Airbus Defense and Space), also in Germany.
When it came time to selecting a school to pursue his doctoral studies, Salado looked across the Atlantic Ocean, drawn to the stellar reputation of Stevens’ School of Systems & Enterprises (SSE).
“Within the systems industry or domain it’s really at the top,” says Salado. “SSE is the first school solely focused on systems engineering as a discipline because the discipline is relatively very new.”
In addition to his extensive industry experience, Salado has taught part-time at several universities in Europe, as an industry professor at Vestfold Buskerud University in Norway and adjunct professor at Universidad Pontificia de Comillas in Spain.
His Stevens experience, he says, made him acutely aware of cultural differences between American and European universities.
“In the U.S., there is a great deal of interest to be at the top or at the forefront. I would say there is a bigger drive to push the boundaries in the U.S. than in Europe.”
He also notes the pragmatic quality of American research universities.
“Stevens, for example, has a unique combination of industry professors and traditional professors in terms of scientists and practitioners. So it was really practical and fully practice-oriented.”
Although he bounced between academia and industry throughout his career, Salado says he never imagined himself joining the faculty of a highly-ranked university.
“When I started my Ph.D., my objective was to continue working in industry. But in pursuing my Ph.D., under the guidance of Assistant Professor Dr. Roshanak Nilchiani, my interest changed dramatically."
Dr. Nilchiani was Alejandro's doctoral research advisor and committee chair. Together they have published more than 20 journal and conference papers and have presented in numerous conferences. Alejandro's research in his doctoral studies was also supported by Dr. Nilchiani's research grant, DARPA F6 program.
"Completing successful projects – designing the best satellite and putting it to work – used to be my main motivation. But now my mind really flies beyond that. My mind is drawn to exploring and solving problems in a broader sense, via research.”
This developing interest peaked last December when Salado attended the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC) Doctoral Fellows Program where he presented his research in front of an illustrious audience that included the VPs of engineering at Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The SERC is a U.S. Department of Defense research center led by SSE.
“There were people at the top of their field not only listening, but showing interest and respect to what I and other students were saying.”
He described that conference as the defining moment when he became open to the possibility of a career in academia in the U.S. In pursuing such a career change, Salado consulted with Dr. Dinesh Verma, dean of SSE, who had encouraged such a move long before Salado was ready to act on it.
“During the last year of my Ph.D., Dinesh was pushing me to join academia actually. So when I was ready, I told him, ‘it’s time for me to join academia.’”
Salado identified the universities he was interested in joining as a faculty member. Virginia Tech was on a very short list of candidates, two to be exact. To leave his career and move his family, the opportunity had to be ideal, he says.
“I decided to apply to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Two weeks later, a position opened up that matched my research interests.” Dr. Salado will be joining Virginia Tech as an assistant professor of systems science and systems engineering in the Grado Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering.
“Alejandro’s drive and dedication, focus on research excellence, and passion for teaching made him an ideal candidate to join the faculty at a top ranked university. It is a matter of pride for me that he has joined my alma mater as a junior faculty member,” says Verma.
What made Virginia Tech so enticing, Salado says, is the opportunity to be on the faculty of a highly-ranked school, and one that had one of the first systems engineering programs in the world with the intention to push the boundaries of the field.
Looking back to his first impressions of Stevens, Salado says he felt at the time that Stevens matched his DNA. He says he now realizes that Stevens was the only place he could do his Ph.D. In addition to having the best program in systems engineering, Salado says Stevens taught him the meaning of school pride.
“Before I came to the U.S., I didn’t understand why some people felt pride in one’s school. But now I have it. I’m very happy about being a Stevens graduate. It changed my interest in a very unexpected way. It provided me with everything I needed to succeed and excel. Now I hope to make an impact on the field as a faculty member at Virginia Tech.”