Alumni Profile

Steven Coffed

Steven Coffed.

There were many long nights of studying, sometimes only to fail a test, and I was rejected from multiple internship programs. But as I look back I realize that I was struggling and working alongside some of the most interesting people I've ever met, many of whom are still my friends today. Because of our problem solving and creative natures, engineers rarely do only engineering."

Where I've Been

Cities

  • Buffalo, NY
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Denver, CO

Organizations

  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

What I've Done

What types of work have you performed? What projects have you worked on?
Since graduating, I've worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Los Angeles, CA. From 2016 - 2018 I was one of several mechanical integration and test engineers working on the InSight lander. I assembled several subsystems including the lander's cameras, cabling, and various science instruments.

What have been some favorite aspects of your work?
Every day that I wake up I have no idea what to expect. I always have a plan of action, but that plan is often derailed by any number of issues, both technical and programmatic. Engineering is about problem-solving and so each day I can expect a new problem to solve, often requiring that I deep dive on subjects I've never dealt with before. I get to work with experts on a broad range of topics outside of mechanical engineering and even outside of engineering itself, expanding into science and business. I can honestly say that I have not had a single boring day of work and if I'm ever staring at the clock...it's wishing I had more time!

What was one of your most satisfying days as an engineer?
I was tasked with designing and building an environmental deployment test for InSight's Wind Thermal Shield to be placed on the surface of Mars to protect the mission's surface seismometer. For reasons outside of my control we were months behind schedule, leaving me three weeks to prepare a test that normally took two months. During that period, I learned the value of data driven arguments - doing my research ahead of time to leave little room for interpretation on what had to happen A-S-A-P. Ultimately the test was completed in time - a single, successful, several minutes long deployment event caught on video (with multiple project management personnel watching over my shoulder) that, had it failed, could have killed the mission. Instead, we delivered the hardware on time, and that shield is currently hurtling towards Mars.

Was it worth it? Whether you worked within the engineering field or not, what has your engineering background made possible for you? What value has it added to your overall life?

Absolutely. As a high school student I was accepted into several music schools and was considering two very different paths. Even as a student at UB I had misgivings about whether or not engineering was the right path for me. There were many long nights of studying, sometimes only to fail a test, and I was rejected from multiple internship programs. But as I look back I realize that I was struggling and working alongside some of the most interesting people I've ever met, many of whom are still my friends today. Because of our problem solving and creative natures, engineers rarely do only engineering. I've met engineers who were musicians, poets, critical thinkers involved in civic engagement. And now that I'm an engineer, I have an engaging, secure job and earn a comfortable salary that allows me the freedom to do essentially anything I want. I still play in a band. I bought a house back in Buffalo. I travel the world with ease and continue to meet fascinating, caring people. I may pursue a business degree, patent law, a PhD, etc. But whatever I choose to do, I know that my background in engineering has given me the skill set to take those challenges head on.

Why it Matters

What would you say to the freshmen currently sitting in your shoes?

I remember thinking I should drop out. I didn't know why I cared about physics or linear algebra when I could be out with friends or making music. I didn't have an anchor point on which to base my studies. But that's the beauty of UB...you don't need one! In fact, you're better off with an open mind. Join clubs, take extra classes, apply to internships and research programs. Put yourself out there and expose yourself to new experiences. If that sounds like a self-help book, it's because it's the best advice there is. If you don't like the path you're on, UB offers countless directions to pivot. And even if at the end of your undergraduate career you're still left searching - even outside of engineering - I can promise that UB will provide the connections and training to continue that search.