Facing a career transition in early 2020 after selling the family business she had run for 18 years, Loyola Marymount University alumna Carolyne Smigelski returned to her alma mater as part of her career transition to return to the aerospace industry. Her experience in the LMU Dual Degree program helped facilitate her re-entry into the industry where she has already moved up to a senior management position.
She originally graduated from LMU with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1997. She quickly landed a job as an engineer at the former TRW (now Northrop Grumman) and worked there three years before becoming CEO of the family’s engineering firm her father founded that dealt predominately with the commercial laundry industry.
Today, she is a working mother who happens to be in her second year as a graduate student at LMU, completing a dual master’s degree program in systems engineering and business administration. Her goal is to eventually enter executive management in aerospace. This dual degree program is geared toward engineers that want to go into upper management or have an interest in entrepreneurship or starting their own business.
Smigelski’s mentors and network at LMU have figured prominently in her plan. When she decided to return to school, she reached out to her bachelor’s program mentor she has stayed in touch with for many years, Nazmul Ula, associate dean and professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Knowing what I was looking to accomplish, he advised that I consider systems engineering because it would update my engineering experience to get my resume noticed and secure a job in aerospace again.”
In fall 2021, during her first semester as a systems engineering graduate student, she met a fellow student who works at Northrop Grumman. Using her networking skills, she asked her classmate if he would forward her resume to the Northrop Grumman hiring managers for a few positions she was interested in pursuing. Soon, she was invited to apply and interview for a section manager role versus an engineering role. “What made the difference was being able to list my master’s program on my resume, which caught the hiring manager’s attention,” Smigelski said. “I was hired at Northrop Grumman as a section manager and successfully reentered the aerospace industry.”
For fall 2022, Smigelski applied and was accepted to the MBA program to round out her dual degree. “Some people tried to dissuade me from getting an MBA since I had experience as CEO of the family business, but I wanted a formal education on current and proven practices in this area, she said. “I have to admit my first semester in the MBA program was extremely challenging, but I do not regret my decision.”
She is now in the planning stages for her systems engineering capstone project. While she hasn’t settled on a research topic yet, her considerations include furthering research that was already started at LMU, something that benefits her current work at Northrop Grumman, or addressing environmental challenges such as a space debris removal program.
In both academia and career, she is well on her way to achieving her goals. Recently, her department manager at work stepped down, leaving a promotion opportunity in front of her. She had only been back at Northrop Grumman six months, however, she decided to apply for the position. “I had the best interview I have ever had!” she said. “I am now the department manager for electrical power systems and design integration. I believe my business experience, education, and people skills as a manager sealed the deal.” Smigelski currently manages six sections and a total staff of about 90 people. “My advice to other students is if you see an opportunity you are interested in, go for it, even if it seems like a long shot.”
On her half century birthday in March 2023, Smigelski was honored by being inducted into LMU’s Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit honor society. She was humbled to receive an invite to apply for membership and delighted to be accepted. “I do a lot of community service and have been a member of the El Segundo Rotary Club since 2014,” said Smigelski. “I believe my outreach and community service align well with Alpha Sigma Nu. I also want to be an ambassador for LMU within the community.”