Jennifer Long ’84, ’86 (MSCE), ’91 (PhD), has had a full Hopkins experience, studying for her undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees in civil engineering at the Whiting School. Since receiving her PhD in 1991, she has spent her career working for the U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). Long is currently a systems and project engineer supporting weapons development and acquisition, which continues to broaden her knowledge beyond her academic background in civil engineering.
What made you choose Johns Hopkins?
I was applying for college towards the end of the 1970s. It was a different landscape then, and needless to say there was no internet—colleges were sending out mass mailings to high school upperclassmen all over the country, and we were sifting through pamphlets extolling the virtues of the various schools. Hopkins stood out to me because they had only recently started admitting women and the engineering program had just been re-established, so the idea of being one of the only women in a new engineering school caught my imagination and I applied early decision. Also, my grandfather had been a writer for the Baltimore Sun, and the idea of connecting to that aspect of my family history was appealing. I was admitted early decision and was so excited to start my college career at JHU.
Do you have any memories that stand out from your time as a student?
As an undergraduate I played two sports, field hockey and lacrosse, and that was beneficial for my personal growth. The time spent on the athletic fields made me focus more when I settled down to the academic work, and being part of a team at the college level was a valuable experience. The combination of the mental, physical and emotional discipline all wrapped up into the undergraduate experience was really challenging but also helped me to learn how to function as an adult.
As for grad school—all fun and games until you had to write that fluid dynamics paper and literally had no background in the subject. That didn’t go so well, but overall graduate school at Hopkins was incredible and I would encourage everyone to pursue some level of graduate degree if you have the opportunity.
Do you have any advice for aspiring engineers?
Be persistent. Find an area within the engineering disciplines that really interests you, and pursue it. Your engineering education is a toolbox—you can do anything you want with it. Don’t be afraid to reach beyond the academic area you majored in to find great opportunities.
Where are you working now? How did you get involved in this line of work?
I got my start at NAVAIR in the early 1990s when the agency was known as the Naval Air Test Center (NATC). There was a job fair on campus the year I was finishing up my doctorate, and representatives from NATC were there chatting with the students. I expressed interest and they invited me down for a tour. NATC was the aircraft flight test center for the Navy, and the facilities and projects going on were pretty impressive. I accepted their job offer and began working there during the summer of 1990.
I started off in aircraft flight testing, which is really cool—we tested all sorts of modifications to Navy aircraft. I was writing test plans and sitting behind strip charts in the control room monitoring everything that was going on with the planes during the tests. I even got to ride in the planes at times, though I never did attend Test Pilot school, which is an opportunity that the engineers have at NATC (now NAVAIR). Eventually I migrated to other areas of the organization, as a flight test makes its own schedule and that can be challenging when you have a family to support.
Why and how do you choose to stay connected to Johns Hopkins as an alumnus?
I’m definitely connected to the sports programs, especially women’s field hockey and lacrosse. Sports were such an important part of my Hopkins experience that I feel close to the teams even after all these years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I attended some of the virtual events with the academic departments and enjoyed reconnecting with the Department of Civil Engineering. The department has broadened its focus areas in recent years in order to stay more in touch with the interests of prospective undergraduates, which I think is really smart, and there are some very interesting areas of study.
Overall, I think the university is doing a great job adapting and growing, and I’m proud to be an alum. I was at JHU for 10 years—a pretty good chunk of my young adult life. I’m appreciative of the experiences I had and how they contributed to the path my career and life has taken.