From Student to Sponsor: Q&A With Scott Rowland

Aug. 12, 2021

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A group of seven people, six in blue polos and one in a red polo) stand next to an academic poster. They are outside and a tree is in the background.
Scott Rowland (in red) with Team 18009, which Northrup Grumman sponsored in the 2018-2019 academic year. The team won the $1,000 Technical Documentation Consultants of Arizona Award for Best Design Documentation.

Scott Rowland earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Arizona in 2003. Now, he is an engineering program manager in the Launch Vehicle Business Unit at Northrop Grumman.

The Northrop Grumman location in Sierra Vista has been sponsoring projects for many years, but Rowland’s unit in Chandler got involved more recently. This will be the sixth year the Launch Vehicles Units partners with the program, and Rowland has served as the main point of contact on each project so far.

Tell us about the capstone project you did when you were a student. 

Raytheon sponsored my capstone project. The objective was to improve the design of an operational and fielded release mechanism for an air-to-air missile. The existing design had a limited life span due to the serve loads it saw in operation and had to be replaced every few years. It was interesting in that we got to work on something that was actual fielded hardware, but also in that the design was heavily constrained. My team really had to think outside the box to find creative solutions to meet the customer objectives. 

Did your experience in the capstone program prepare you for your career?

The capstone program was a really positive experience for me. I was pretty involved in the UA Solar Car during my time on campus. While there was a lot of overlap, I took away a couple of important things from the capstone program that the club didn’t offer. The first was dealing with constraints. Upgrading a mechanism in a fielded product really limited the design space, and the club had a lot more design freedom. I’ve found that the design space we worked with in our capstone experience more closely reflects what I see in my career. The second was getting to support an actual customer and finding a solution that not only met the requirements, but also evolved as we engaged with the sponsor. 

Can you share a little bit about some of the teams you’ve worked with over the years?

Our projects have been really diverse and required a very diverse set of students, which is perfect for Interdisciplinary Capstone. We have sponsored things like a large format 3D printer, flexible event data recorder and lattice winding machine. Last year we tried to get creative in the pandemic environment and sponsored a project to 3D print shock isolators. Northrop Grumman purchased a hobby 3D printer for the team to rapid prototype and test various isolator geometries and materials. 

It was a tough year for everyone, and the team certainly had its ups and downs, but the students finished strong and overall did really well. They developed a design that met all of our requirements. At the end of the project, the team got to visit our facility in Chandler and put their design through the final tests on an electrodynamic shaker that we use to test hardware before it goes to space. 

What are some of the most rewarding moments of being a program mentor?

The most rewarding moments for me have been getting to watch our teams develop. On our last project, the team started off really siloed, with members each just doing their own thing. We really pushed the team to go back to fundamentals and first principles, use the engineering process and make sure that each step informed the design. I remember when it finally clicked, and all of the sudden the team went from one design every couple months to multiple designs in weeks – each iteration building off the lessons learned from the last. 

We have also used Interdisciplinary Capstone to build our staff at Northrop, with some of the students joining our team after graduation. It’s been awesome to watch them grow in their careers as they contribute to our success. As an added bonus, they are paying it forward, mentoring and coaching capstone teams, interns and co-op students from the UA. 

Would you recommend the sponsor experience to other companies and alumni?

Absolutely, we’ve seen that the benefits from sponsorship go beyond the final delivered product. It’s been very rewarding to play a role in the students’ development, and I’ve certainly learned a few things along the way!

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