ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. – Young engineers are often expected to know aspects of the job they may not yet be familiar with, and one of the biggest challenges they face is pinpointing where to find answers to their questions or identifying the best person to ask, according to Austin Voorhes, a senior mechanical design engineer at Arnold Air Force Base.
To help newer engineers acquire some of the skills and fundamentals needed, Voorhes several years ago established “lunch and learn” sessions at Arnold. Since he undertook this effort, more than 100 lunch and learn sessions covering an array of topics have been held.
Leadership with National Aerospace Solutions, the Test Operations and Sustainment Contractor at Arnold AFB, has recognized Voorhes as a Significant Contributor for developing and leading the lunch and learns on base.
Voorhes describes a lunch and learn as a group of folks who gather together on their own time over lunch to learn about a topic of professional interest.
It was an experience at the architect and design firm where Voorhes worked prior to coming to AEDC a little more than 10 years ago that inspired him to start the lunch and learns at Arnold. The firm experienced very rapid growth, and Voorhes was the first new graduate hired of what ended up being a surge of 200 engineers hired into a department with around 100 experienced engineers.
The response of this firm was to offer extensive training to the influx of new and young engineers. Voorhes said the engineers spent “just about every lunch” in a vendor lunch and learn presentation, in a book club reviewing technical texts related to the job, or in a more formal class setting.
A few years ago, the Design Engineering department at Arnold AFB acquired several new mechanical engineers. Voorhes recalled his experience as a young engineer and how helpful the lunch and learns were for him. He took steps to develop a similar program to benefit new and young engineers at Arnold.
“Remembering how school did not really prepare me to do anything specifically useful and how lunch and learns were used to bridge the gap between specific practical skills and my education, I tried the same thing,” Voorhes said. “It started tentatively with two of the new graduates and their mentor, then the rest of the new graduates and our intern at the time and then a few older engineers. As the topics were relevant, engineers from test or maintenance organizations would attend.”
The first session of this lunch and learn series led by the Design Engineering team was held May 29, 2015. More than 125 sessions have since been held. Nearly all the sessions, which take place roughly once per week, have been led by Voorhes.
“Austin has a special talent for teaching engineering topics and readily identifies with our junior engineers and summer interns,” said Bruce Dean, Voorhes’ supervisor and section manager for Design Engineering. “His ability to distill complex technical subjects into useful terms and equations for a real-world working environment has advanced the timetable for assimilation of these engineers into our fully-functional workforce.”
Topics for the lunch and learns have included a review of flow formulas and Bernoulli’s Theorem, types of pipe fittings, typical piping welds, writing technical reports, valve classes, an overview of gaskets, compressed air safety, and engineering communications.
The typical attendance for a lunch and learn is 15 to 20 people, according to Voorhes. Both contractor and Air Force personnel regularly attend these sessions. The lunch and learns are usually held in the conference room of Building 1103, otherwise known as the Carroll Building, unless the class period is used to tour an area of the base.
Voorhes said he has two goals for the lunch and learns, adding these goals are dependent on the topic covered. He said one goal is to impart specific practical skills, such as how to size a cavitation flow orifice or how to size a socket weld.
“The other goal is to give an overview of a complicated topic to let engineers get a general understanding of a topic and know that tools exist to work with that topic,” Voorhes said.
George Fry, functional manager for NAS Design Engineering, said engineering resources often become focused or specialized to address a specific need for the base. Because of this, continuous development is critical in maintaining the overall technical capability and agile engineering workforce at AEDC.
“While the lunch and learn program was initiated to accelerate the newer engineers’ progress up the learning curve, it also provides an important opportunity for more seasoned engineers to refresh technical skills that they may not have used for a while,” Fry said. “Austin’s engagement and ownership of this program is an example of leadership being a character trait, not a position on an org chart.”
The next lunch and learn will be Aug. 8 beginning at 11:03 a.m. in the Carroll building. The topic will be “Reading Pressure Regulator Curves.”