As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, Janice Karty loved physics, but knew she wanted to be a part of building things. Sage advice from her academic adviser led her to pursue her degree through the School of Engineering & Applied Science and eventually to a career at McDonnell-Douglas Astronautics Co., now The Boeing Co., where she was recently appointed to the prestigious position of senior technical fellow in Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security business unit.
Karty, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the School of Engineering & Applied Science in physics in 1978, is now among an elite group of 2,000 engineers at Boeing across three levels of seniority who provide technical advice or direction in solving challenges within the company. In Boeing’s St. Louis operations, Karty is the only woman senior technical fellow — a position she has been working toward for several years.
“The people in this senior technical fellowship are quite accomplished, and honestly, to even have been nominated for the position is an honor, but to actually receive it is like a dream come true,” Karty said.
As senior technical fellow, Karty’s scope of influence is global and corporate-wide, spanning both military and commercial aircraft that Boeing produces.
Karty joined McDonnell-Douglas in 1985 as a research scientist after earning a master’s and a doctorate at Rice University. She developed computational software that provided electromagnetic analysis. Now, she studies electromagnetic environmental effects, which includes mitigating interference between avionics hardware.
“As an example, if you turn a radio on and the pilots want to be speaking with the ground or with each other, they can’t have interference with other electronic products on board,” she said. “Each piece of equipment has to be tested either to commercial or to military standards to meet certain requirements so that their emissions are not out of specifications.”
One of Karty’s role models is the late Mildred Dresselhaus, an MIT professor of physics and engineering also known as the “Queen of Carbon,” whose pioneering research in the magnetic and optical properties of graphite and other semi-metals led to the discovery of nanotubes. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Dresselhaus the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. government’s highest civilian honor.
Solving problems and learning how things work keep Karty highly engaged in her work.
“It’s an excellent feeling when you can help make a design correct the first time,” she said. “It’s almost like solving a puzzle to make sure all of the pieces fit together initially, then going in and quickly being able to figure out when something doesn’t go according to plan. We’re looking for the most efficient optimized way of doing things, with respect to schedule and costs.”
Karty was named as the Boeing research liaison with the School of Engineering & Applied Science in January 2016, a role she sees as important to both the company and to the school.
“It’s important to get the correct researchers talking with each other, giving them the opportunity to share ideas,” she said.
“In sharing research with others, you often help yourself understand what actually is happening in your particular discipline. I think it’s of tremendous benefit to both Boeing and Washington University in a variety of different fields.”
At Boeing, Karty is deputy chair of the Boeing Technical Excellence Conference, an internal global conference open to all of Boeing’s technical employees that allows them to present their work to peers. As deputy chair, Karty is mentoring employees in preparation for presentations. Mentoring is something she has greatly enjoyed over her career having worked with countless engineers.
Karty stays involved with WashU through various groups and also mentors Engineering students, most recently in March at an Association for Graduate Engineering Students (AGES) networking event. Her devotion to WashU is deep, as three generations — including her mother, father, brother and son — have also earned degrees from the university. She received an Alumni Achievement Award
from the School in 2012.
She also is involved with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and has presented more than 12 invited papers at national conferences.
While working in the aerospace industry can be challenging, Karty said she sees opportunities instead of challenges.
“It’s the opportunity to see how not only my discipline works, but how it works with other disciplines and being able to contribute to integrated technical teams all working toward the same goal,” she said. “Seeing how it all comes together is not so much a challenge as much as a tremendous opportunity.”
The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 98 tenured/tenure-track and 38 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 20,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.