At age 5, Elaine Cope’s dad taught her to weld, while her grandma taught her to sew; she combined those interests and turned them into an manufacturing engineering technology degree at Weber State University in 2017 and a career at Northrop Grumman, working on a new defense system with the U.S Air Force.
The connections may not seem obvious, but design creativity is at the core of Cope’s interests.
“I was always in the garage with my dad and my brother,” she said. “As a kid, I built a Barbie hair salon and a bike trailer out of scrap metal. I would also sew a lot with my grandma, and later on, I used a lot of those skills with composites and carbon fiber. That's what really started it. My grandparents and my parents supported me.”
Now, in support of the profession she loves, Cope jumps at every chance to serve as a spokesperson and outreach advocate for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Every year her calendar is marked with multiple events where she encourages kids, especially young girls, to pursue degrees in STEM.
“STEM is really missing a key feature by not having as many women,” Cope said. “I tell parents to encourage their kids to pursue creative engineering.”
She knows support and positive role models can make all the difference. For Cope, it meant having a seat at the table during a momentous moment for the future of the nation's security. Immediately following graduation, she was selected as an entry-level engineer working on the 300-member proposal team to secure the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) contract for Northrop Grumman. Now in early stages of development, GBSD is the land-based intercontinental ballistic missile system that will replace the aging Minuteman III missiles. Much of the design will be conducted in northern Utah.
“We’ve already hired for 2,500 GBSD-related jobs in Utah, and we’ll be ramping up to 4,500,” Cope said. “It’s incredible to see the rapid growth and all the opportunities in the future.”
Cope is a California native who followed her brother’s lead to attend Weber State, where she said she found exceptional opportunities in and out of the classroom.
She honed her leadership skills as a member of the student senate and the Society of Women Engineers. She filled her schedule with engineering and technical writing courses, which helped her effectively articulate engineering processes in her classes and later in her career.
“When I had an issue with a part, I could write the procedure to rework it and then go talk to the technicians, and it took a day or two turnaround — getting the product out of the shop a lot faster — some of the other engineers would take four of five days.”
To augment her bachelor’s degree, Cope just completed a post-graduate certificate in systems engineering. She worked closely with manufacturing systems engineering instructor and mentor Nicole Beatty.
“Weber State looks forward to providing in-demand career paths in system engineering for students like Elaine,” Beatty said. “Our view of systems engineering is in the global context, taking a holistic approach, while incorporating international standards and teachings. Industry relevance translates to career advancement opportunities for Elaine and her peers.”
Cope said earning a certificate before moving the credits to a master’s degree was a “try before you buy approach,” that served her well. She hopes to be a member of the first class in a new master’s of systems engineering, which is planned for next year.
Cope said it’s possible her entire career will be dedicated to engineering around GBSD and takes great pride in knowing her work will contribute to a critical piece of the nation’s defense.
“I’m helping the United States and our allies stay protected,” she said. “We tell the world about the project, because our adversaries won’t attack us if they know what we have. There’s no power in keeping it secret.”
It’s also no secret that Cope loves what she does.
“Weber State created a family for me in Utah,” she said. “It also really lit the fire of my passion for engineering.”