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Electrical Engineering student finds rewarding work in U.S. defense field

Jennifer smiles outside on a walking path.

Jennifer Owrutsky ‘20 was in ninth grade when she had a revelation. She’d built two model windmills to test and compare for a project at the York County Science Fair. “I think it was the first time I realized I could do what I wanted with the knowledge I had,” she says. “I could build something that didn’t exist before.”

The feeling was incredible. That revelation, combined with her love of designing, inventing, and working with her hands, led her to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering from York College of Pennsylvania – and she been building things into existence ever since.

Finding her place

Jennifer wasn’t originally going to go to York College. She’d been accepted somewhere else and was planning to go there. Then, she visited York College’s campus.

The faculty in the Engineering Department were welcoming and genuinely cared about her. “They really made me feel wanted at the school. I kind of realized that they wanted me to go there as much as I wanted to go there,” she says. “I didn’t get that feeling anywhere else.”

She went on to become an American Constitutional Freedom Scholar and a Graham Innovation Scholar at York College while also landing some impressive out-of-classroom experiences. Her first two co-ops were with the Naval Warfare Center where they test and build for the Navy, as well as renovate and care for ships.

For someone who had no prior connection to the military, those first few weeks were intense. “Not only did I have to learn about the work I’m doing in electrical engineering, but I also had to learn about the Navy and how the military works,” she says. She was eager to learn, though, and found success. “I think I always knew I wanted to do something rewarding and give back,” she says, “but I don’t think I ever made the connection that working in defense would give me that feeling.”

She was so successful that her manager at the time encouraged her to apply for the American Society of Naval Engineers Undergraduate Scholarship. She was one of eight nationwide winners. “I was very honored,” Jennifer says. “I felt very valued as an employee and someone who was helping defend the nation.”

Now in her third co-op, Jennifer is continuing to work in defense at Northrop Grumman, where she helps to design and build parts and equipment for the military. “They’ve really thrown me into stuff, which has been great,” she says. “And, they’re teaching me a lot.

Leaving her mark

There are challenges to being a woman in engineering — like the fact Jennifer is the only female Electrical Engineer in her class. She wanted there to be a better way for female students and professors in Engineering to support each other, so in her sophomore year, she built one.

Women in Sciences and Engineering Club provides female students, from first-year students to seniors, a place to connect with and support each other. She hopes the club will give younger students the ability to find female role models in their field, something she wishes had existed during her first year.

Creating something that didn’t exist before is what Jennifer loves about engineering. It’s only fitting that she created something that will outlast her at the school. “I want to be more than a student,” Jennifer says. “I want to make an impact on the College that will still be there when I leave.”

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