Juan-Luis Vasquez, Bachelor's in Physics '14

The Backbone of Defense

Using physics to save the nation

Physics alum Juan-Luis Vasquez ’14 is doing important work to protect the country. As a systems engineer at Lockheed Martin’s Rotary and Mission Systems, Juan-Luis works on the Long Range Discrimination Radar program. According to Lockheed, it's the backbone of the Missile Defense Agency’s strategy to protect the U.S. from ballistic missile attacks. Juan-Luis says it’s exciting to be involved in and contribute to such a unique and important program.

How did the physics program prepare you for your career?
In undergrad, I was constantly challenged to be versatile, hardworking, and creative in all my courses. This shaped my approach and dedication, preparing me to thrive in a reputable engineering company.

I recently moved to a design-based systems engineering position at Lockheed Martin’s Rotary and Mission Systems. The work relies immensely on my ability to pick up new and slightly unfamiliar concepts in a timely manner where mathematics and physics are heavily involved. My engineering studies prepared me for certain concepts and fields, but my physics studies prepared me to think differently and approach problems in a manner which enables me to succeed. The hard sciences don't get enough credit when it comes to the preparation they provide for an engineering career. I strongly believe in a solid science foundation before or in conjunction with an engineering curriculum.

Why did you want to attend USF?
USF had several facets that were attractive to me: location, academics, and curriculum. The 3+2 Physics-Engineering Dual Degree program in conjunction with the University of Southern California differentiated USF from other schools. I began to excel in physics my senior year of high school and saw the 3+2 program as an opportunity to further pursue my interest in the subject. The idea of diving into a subject that fascinated me so much was too great of an opportunity to pass up.

Why did you want to major in physics?
The sciences always fascinated me, but I didn’t perform too well in biology or chemistry in high school and thought I would study graphic design. But my senior year of high school, I took an outstanding and very interesting physics course where the subject became effortless and intuitive. I decided to pursue this fascination in college, and left graphic design to a hobby. I come from a diverse and creative family –– my mother is an architect and artist, my father is a systems engineer and a musician, and my brother is a film director. The deeper I went into physics, the clearer it became that imagination and creativity are huge for fully grasping the concepts, and I began to look at it from a new perspective.

What are some of your best memories from the physics program?
My best memories are working in the upper division lab until late at night with my fellow classmates and soon-to-be best friends, and the feeling I would get when finishing a long and truly challenging homework assignment or project. I also recall office hours being a remarkable experience, as weird as that sounds, because of the devotion and care the faculty showed us. Some great memories are of times we all sat outside Professors Horacio Camblong or Seth Foreman’s office while one of our friends had their turn speaking to the professor, planning which party or bar we would all go to afterward. The bond we created with each other as well as with the teachers became special and something we all cherish greatly.

How are you continuing to carry on USF’s mission?
Being in the fortunate position that I'm in, I believe it's my responsibility to give back and help where I can. I am involved in providing aid and guidance to those who are in similar positions I've been in such as being an immigrant, having doubts about higher education, and needing career advice. Through Lockheed Martin, I've participated in numerous tutoring events, mentoring programs, talks at universities and high schools, and volunteer work with a local high school's robotics team. The concept of changing and impacting the world can be confusing when thought about so broadly, so I make a positive impact in individual lives as best I can, which in turn can impact that individual’s world.