REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (June 26, 2023) – The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center was Amy Gerards’ first job interview.
On Thanksgiving break from Auburn University in 2000, Gerards interviewed with the Center for a position in the Propulsion and Structures Directorate, not realizing that the meeting would be a pivotal moment in her life.
Two decades later, Gerards looks back over a career spent in propulsion and says that she is still excited to go to work every day. It has become more common to “job hop” and staying in one place is increasingly rare, but for Gerards, the ever-changing landscape of energetics research and development has meant that there is always a new challenge to tackle.
“Everything I work on is different,” Gerards said. “Every customer is different. And in the past 20-something years, we have improved modeling tools – different materials to evaluate. It never gets boring.”
Gerards hails from Arab, Alabama, where as a child she developed an affinity for mathematics. Combine that with growing up in proximity to NASA, and she knew that she wanted to be an aerospace engineer. Gerards majored in aerospace engineering at Auburn, and after coming to work for the DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, earned a master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering through the precursor to what today is the Center’s tuition assistance program.
After spending her entire career in research and development, Gerards took on a new challenge in 2022, moving into a leadership role as the motor design and analysis branch chief. It was a change that she was hesitant about, she said, noting that it was during the COVID 19 pandemic and she was concerned about making such a large career move during an uncertain time. Despite her reservations, Gerards’ mentors encouraged her that she was the right person for the job and to take the leap.
Moving from a research role into leadership has been a learning curve, but it has been rewarding having the opportunity to use her experience to mentor the newest members of the team, Gerards said. She knows well that nervous feeling of watching her propulsion tests, and still has those same nervous jitters for her team’s tests.
Now that Gerards is in a leadership role, she can share the hard-won lessons learned over her career, such as, while it is easy to stay in one’s safe lane, it is essential to an engineer’s growth to learn about the entire missile system and how it fits into the ecosystem.
“Take a step back and look at the bigger picture,” she advises her team. “Get out and meet people. Ask questions. Go to different meetings. It will help you understand the ‘why’ of what you are doing – and maybe even figure out who you are meant to be.”
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.