Rachel Pollard, MS

Hometown: Suffolk, VA
Degree earned at WPI: MS, Physics

Why did you choose to attend WPI?
When I was searching for colleges, I knew I wanted to challenge myself more than I ever had before. My interests and skills were more mathematical and technical in nature, so I decided to choose a science and engineering school. When I came for my overnight stay at WPI in April of 2001, as soon as I set foot on campus, I knew that WPI was the place for me. During my overnight, I met several students who laughed and joked about science in an intelligent way and seemed to be genuinely curious individuals. I enjoyed the cooperative atmosphere, which I now know WPI fosters throughout their undergraduate education, and loved that WPI students enjoyed and embraced their intelligence both in academics and in their personal life. When I left campus, I could not stop thinking about my upcoming freshmen year at WPI; I knew it was the place I needed to be.

My undergraduate and graduate experiences at WPI have played an extraordinarily large part in leading me from a young individual with what could be described as a lot of thrust and very little direction, to an individual with a lot of thrust and the ability to analyze and execute course decisions with ease.

Present job title and employer:
As a senior consultant at Prevailance, Inc., I am currently working for the Department of Defense (DoD), —specifically the Joint Staff—researching, building, and analyzing DoD capability areas. I develop architecture products, provide systems engineering analysis, and identify potential solutions to increase system interoperability. Capability areas studied to date include Joint Personnel Recovery, Counter Improvised Explosive Device Protection, Ballistic Missile Defense of United States Northern Command (Continental US), and Ballistic Missile Defense of Europe.

How do you feel your experiences at WPI prepared you for working in your field?
Using my physics education, I bring a unique perspective and method of analyzing problem areas to the team. While at WPI, I learned to not only focus on the particular problem area I was trying to solve, but to also look at how that solution affected the world around it. One of the top principles in my organization is “Do no Harm"; in our field this means that when a system upgrade is proposed for one mission area, it must not interfere with the functionality of the same system in another mission area. DoD-utilized systems perform many missions, often at the same time, so while projects focus on only one capability area at a time, the analyst must be able to ensure that each suggested upgrade does not negatively affect the performance of another mission.

How has WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, prepared you for facing real-world challenges in the workplace or graduate school?
WPI's philosophy of Theory and Practice is exactly the methodology I use to complete my job responsibilities on a daily basis. The group I'm in provides mission area analysis and solution development in order to support the rapid pace required by the war fighter. The engineers and analysts ,working in teams of four, have approximately six months to study, document, and determine gaps and solutions for any given capability area. The WPI philosophy directly corresponds to this work environment in several ways that provide WPI graduates an advantage in the workplace:

  • The WPI project-based curriculum provides experience developing a deliverable product.
  • Each project the group undertakes combines a mixture of technical and nontechnical factors that must be analyzed and evaluated for trade-offs.
  • There are multiple correct answers; a large part of the effort is determining which is “best,” and, along the way, defining “best” for each specific mission area.
  • You don’t get to pick your project team; in most cases, management will assemble a team and establish high-level objectives that must be achieved.
  • All projects end with a report and presentation; being able to produce these on demand is a critical skill.

Using the skills I developed at WPI, I am able to work within the group to quickly study and understand mission areas and systems and then start putting into practice what I have learned to suggest solutions to gaps we have identified.

Groups or extracurricular activities you participate in at WPI:

  • Alpha Gamma Delta - Member 2002-2007
  • Alpha Gamma Delta - Treasurer 2003-2004
  • Society of Physics Students - President 2004-2005
  • Society of Physics Students - President 2004-2005
  • Cycling Club - Member 2004-2007

Academic or professional awards you have received:

  • Physics Department Leadership Award: 2005

Additional comments:
In addition to providing me with the experiences and skills needed to successfully navigate the workplace, WPI provided me many other benefits; I met my husband there in 2002 and we've been best friends ever since (we were married in 2008). Turin and I both work for the DoD Joint Staff, but after work you can find us riding on mountain biking trails, with our dogs Indiana and Aloria along.


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