Seven years ago, accepting a job offer as an aerospace engineer was simply a dream brewing in the mind of Cal Poly Pomona alumnus Chris Oke-Ugbah (20’ aerospace engineering), but today Ugbah is launching his associate engineering position at Virgin Galactic spaceflight company.
As an associate engineer, Ugbah will be working with the Guidance, Navigation and Control team to help develop a new suite of autopilot systems to integrate into spaceships. Specifically, he will be assisting with system requirement verifications. According to Ugbah, his work deals with commercial space crafts that will allow people to travel on space tours at an estimated cost of $250,000 per seat.
But before all this, Ugbah’s professional journey began in 2013, when he immigrated to the United States from Nigeria to attend Cerritos College.
He attributes his passion for engineering to the family and friends he had in his home country. “I was surrounded by engineers growing up, so it was quite easy to decide this is the path I wanted to follow,” Ugbah added.
Ugbah’s hiring at Virgin Galactic was the result of his perseverance in the face of obstacles that threatened to stray him from his path. The alumnus described his struggle finding a place within the tight-knit engineering department.
“The aerospace department is kind of small and a lot of people knew each other there, so that was kind of challenging, just trying to integrate with the people there,” Ugbah said. “I figured out that one of the best ways to stand out was to work hard. I would pay attention in class, ask questions and be proactive. That slowly helped me integrate into the group.”
In just his second year at CPP, however, he faced financial hardships that forced him to sit out a full year from academic studies. “For the financial situation, I just knew I couldn’t afford that year in college. I just knew the right thing to do at that time was take the time off,” Ugbah said.
Undeterred, Ugbah used the hiatus to personally reflect and grow as a person before returning to his studies with renewed vigor.
Yet, even after earning his degree, he faced the challenge of lacking U.S. citizenship while job
“My situation is kind of interesting. Usually with aerospace jobs they want you to have U.S.
citizenship,” Ugbah said. “Fortunately, this is like, I don’t know, the one in 100 companies that
are okay with you being a green card holder.”
Ugbah credits his senior project experience and the systems engineering program at CPP for
preparing him for his professional career.
For the Lockheed Martin sponsored project, Ugbah helped in creating design reviews, breaking down
structures and making uses of system engineering practices that he would later present directly to
the aerospace company.
He also attributes his success to his mentor, aerospace engineering professor Subodh Bhandari, who served as Ugbah’s professor for multiple classes, as well as his academic advisor. Bhandari encouraged Ugbah to join the senior project team.
“When I shared my experience and qualifications with the employers, they were really impressed with how our school was set up,” Ugbah said, “Obviously if I hadn’t worked on that senior project, I don’t
know exactly how it would have gone, so definitely he helped a lot.”
During these uncertain times for college graduates, Ugbah encouraged mental determination when it
comes to life after college.
“Don’t give up … If you don’t get an internship, try to get some sort of experience with either
senior projects or just projects in general,” Ugbah added.
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