Nat Forgotson has spent his career working on technology projects that look inward at the Earth and outward at our neighbors in the solar system and at the Universe beyond.
He is currently a Vice President at Science Systems and Applications, Inc (SSAI) where he manages the Electrical Systems Engineering Services III contract that supports the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. His team played a critical role in the design, manufacture, and launch of five spacecraft in the last year including the LUCY mission to explore Jupiter’s trojan asteroids and the James Webb Space Telescope. Over the course of his career, he has managed development of hardware for more than twenty satellites and scientific instruments.
In parallel to his engineering career, he has moonlighted in the professional wrestling industry for twenty-five years – first as a performer and now as a public speaking coach and backstage producer. He received his MSEE from Northeastern University and his MBA from the University of Maryland and lives in Howard County, MD.
What made you choose Johns Hopkins?
I must admit that Johns Hopkins wasn’t even on my radar until I received a mailer from the school based on my SAT scores. My family hoped that I would stay closer to home in New England, but they indulged my curiosity by taking a family trip to visit Baltimore and take a tour of the Homewood Campus. It was love at first sight. I knew at the end of my campus tour that Johns Hopkins was where I wanted to attend college.
Do you have any memories that stand out from your time as a student?
Johns Hopkins afforded me the opportunity to become a well-rounded person and I took full advantage of every academic and extra-curricular activity that I could to expand my horizons. I worked very hard as an engineering student but balanced the grind with several classes in the Writing Seminars in which I got to express my creativity. I also participated in Barnstormers and still keep in touch with friends who I acted with in “A Dopey Fairy Tale” as part of the Freshman One Acts. I developed a love for synthpop and techno from dancing late into the night at “Funk Night” in the Levering Cafeteria, which led me to explore some of the great night clubs around Baltimore. I also enjoyed every lacrosse game that I could and still attend games to this day with my family.
Do you have any advice for aspiring engineers?
The first ten years of your career are a chance to explore industries and disciplines to find the right fit before specializing. Before my career in aerospace, I bounced around industries as a hands-on engineer, and worked on amazing projects ranging from electromagnetic armor to medical instrumentation for therapeutic processing of human blood. While I enjoyed those projects, space is what captured my interest. I also encourage aspiring engineers to take advantage of any opportunity to improve their writing and public speaking skills, both of which help open doors to new projects.
Where are you working now? How did you get involved in this line of work?
SSAI has a 45 year history of supporting scientific exploration and innovation with the goal of expanding human knowledge and improving life on our home planet. I joined SSAI in 2015 as a manager on the Hydrospheric Biospheric Services contract, which was my first chance to manage teams of scientists instead of engineers. This opportunity gave me a broader context for the engineering efforts to come and helped me craft strategies to bid and win the contract that I now manage.
My current job is a culmination of many years of trying to answer the question that helped me decide on a specialization within engineering. When my first child was on the way, I wanted to have an answer that made me proud when he asked, “Daddy, what’s your job?” The answer then and now is that daddy helps build spaceships. I knew I had chosen the right path when I took my children to their first launch party and counted along with them as the rocket took off with OSIRIS-Rex as it began its seven-year round-trip voyage to an asteroid called Bennu.
Why and how do you choose to stay connected to Johns Hopkins as an alumnus?
My Johns Hopkins experience opened so many doors to me as I pursued my engineering career, so it is very important for me to give back. I have volunteered my time for years in mock interview and speed networking events to help students refine their personal brands and prepare for careers in engineering. I encourage all of my fellow alumni to contribute to the school in whatever way they can to support the engineers of tomorrow as they begin their journeys.