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Kenneth Santarelli Educates the Next Generation of Engineers
Kenneth Santarelli, an Organizational Leadership doctoral student at the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP), has been named director of California State University, Fresno's engineering programs at the Lancaster University Center in Southern California. Santarelli sat down to tell us about this latest development in his career and his exciting journey from aerospace to higher education.
What attracted you to this new position?
When I was an undergraduate at California State University, Long Beach I determined that I would like to retire young enough to have a few years to devote to educating the next generation of engineers. This position was an interesting find. Had I written the position description myself it would not have matched my education and experience any better.
What are your main responsibilities and challenges?
My responsibilities are to direct Fresno’s engineering programs in the Antelope Valley; interface with partner educational institutions; serve as a liaison with government agencies, community groups, and industry; and to coordinate with the Air Force Research Laboratory, NASA, etc. I hope to develop the Fresno State Antelope Valley Extension into a self-sufficient extension campus; however, the Antelope Valley statistics for graduating high school students indicate that fewer than 25 percent are academically prepared to enter university. I hope to be able to help materially change that statistic.
Sounds like a bit of a departure from your career in the aerospace industry. What motivated you to work in higher education?
Last year, I had the opportunity to meet with the public policy chair for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. During that meeting I was made aware of the severity of the problem, with respect to engineering professions, that retiring baby boomers are going to create in industry nationwide. The chair referred to the problem as a "perfect storm." I feel that by entering higher education I have the best opportunity to help alleviate that problem and make a difference in my profession.
Tell us about working as an International Space Station manufacturing and test coordinator.
I joined Rocketdyne after the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant incident. At the time I was working for a component manufacturer that was heavily invested in supplying instruments and controls to the nuclear power plant industry, and I decided that it was time to change industries. I was fortunate enough to join the Space Station Electric Power System management team when Rocketdyne was awarded the full-scale development and production contract 20 years ago.
Working on a manned space flight program was the fulfillment of a childhood dream. My experience on the International Space Station program was truly an “E” ticket ride. It was extremely challenging, terribly frustrating, extraordinarily exhilarating, and personally very-very rewarding. I loved every minute of my career in aerospace, and I love the people who I was so very privileged to work with.
What experiences led you to a career in aerospace?
I was an intelligence specialist in the Air Force. Besides duty with a tactical reconnaissance wing and a strategic bomb wing, I served with a forward air control squadron in Vietnam during the TET Offensive in 1968. I also enjoyed my time with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I was a commissioned officer and received my training at King’s Point, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. I was assigned as an officer of the deck on a research vessel and stood watches on the bridge for a year. The experience was extremely boring for long periods of time and intensely exciting on occasions.
What influences or changes in the world have most impacted your career trajectory?
The industries in which I have worked were most heavily influenced by the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, President Reagan and the end of the Cold War, globalization, and 9/11 and the war on terror. All of these events caused significant realignments. Personally, the Vietnam conflict was the single most significant influence in my life. When I joined the Air Force, it was with the intent of pursuing a military career. When I left Vietnam it was with a resolve to build things and help people.
You have the opportunity to do both in your new position. As part of the GSEP Organizational Leadership program, you are now at work on your dissertation. What is the focus of your research?
I am currently preparing my research proposal which I hope to defend during the fall term. My topic is an industry needs assessment for the Fresno engineering programs in the Antelope Valley. My study is framed by Dewey and Tyler’s seminal works on curriculum development and I am planning a mixed methods study. I have an extraordinary dissertation chair in Dr. Diana Hiatt-Michael.
This isn't your first experience with Pepperdine. Tell us about earning your MBA from the Graziadio School of Business and Management.
When I was a young engineer the perceived fast track approach to career advancement was to obtain a professional engineering license and an MBA. I believe it worked because I was able to accomplish the advancement goals that I set for myself much earlier than I anticipated. I found that my Pepperdine MBA provided skills that I have been able to apply to my work on a daily basis. I also believe that my MBA stimulated my interest in studying leadership and was instrumental in prompting me to pursue a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you offer young people in the early phases of their career?
Treat everyone with respect and dignity, maintain an open mind, nurture the desire to learn, and always remember that our attitude is a choice that each of us makes every morning and with each given situation that we face.