As an engineering manager at Denver-based United Launch Alliance (ULA), Trevor Kilpatrick shoots for the stars — or, more accurately, the planets — every day. A joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, ULA helps launch rockets for NASA, the Department of Defense and other government and commercial organizations.
“We launch Atlas V, Delta IV, Delta II — the final Delta II mission is coming up, which is kind of a bittersweet moment for a lot of us — and we’re working on the future of launch, as well, with our new Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle, which is currently in development,” says Kilpatrick, who earned an MBA from DU in 2010.
The best thing about his job, he says, is the passion his coworkers have for their mission and the sense of purpose that drives his team. One of the most fun parts of the job, meanwhile, is the chance to interact with future engineers. Kilpatrick is one of ULA’s STEM outreach speakers, regularly visiting area schools and leading sessions at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to tap into kids’ interest in space.
“I love doing that because it’s that opportunity to inspire the next generation,” he says. “I’ve got a 30-year career [at ULA] — I can only do so much in my time — but the stuff you can do to inspire the next generation is what ensures that we continue to have success for hundreds of years to come.”
His bachelor’s degree in engineering is from Iowa State University, but Kilpatrick supplemented his education — and gave his career a boost — with his DU MBA. He took night classes while working for ULA, and the company helped pay for his degree.
“I’ve always enjoyed the business side of engineering,” he says. “I don’t have the level of technical mind that some of my peers do, and I’ve always enjoyed delving into some of the business concepts that go along with engineering, in terms of cost drivers and things like that. The MBA was a huge help for me in terms of developing my skill set and then being able to bring that back to ULA and apply it in what is typically a very technical environment. It’s given me a differentiator from some of my peers, as well.”
Currently, Kilpatrick is supporting ULA’s efforts to send astronauts to the International Space Station from American soil, something that hasn’t happened since the last space shuttle mission in 2011.
“It’s super-exciting,” he says. “We’re actually putting people [into space], and it changes our mission-success dynamic. As soon as you have people [involved], it makes crew safety your No. 1 priority. The goal is to get up to the space station and perform whatever mission the astronauts have, but from a ULA standpoint, the No. 1 thing is that even if you have a bad day, we still want to make sure that the crew gets back home safely.”