Q&A with Olivia Ernst, Apex Mechanical Engineer

Published on
May 9, 2023
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Olivia is a Mechanical Engineer at Apex. She recently graduated from Caltech with her B.S. in mechanical engineering and an aerospace minor. While at Caltech, she interned year-round at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Q: What did you learn from your time at JPL?

Working at JPL was a wonderful experience. I had some amazing mentors who allowed me to take charge and lead some projects as a one-person team. I got to see what it’s really like on the R&D side at JPL developing novel instrument or technology concepts, and I contributed to progress reviews and supported grant proposals. One of the best parts of my time as an intern was taking advantage of the vast wealth of knowledge by meeting new people and learning more about what they work on, whether they were seasoned scientists and engineers or fellow interns.

Q: What made you want to go into aerospace?

Aerospace is a field that pushes the frontiers of science, and allows us to learn more about the universe we live in. It is incredible what new and emerging aerospace companies are doing to push the boundaries of what’s possible by developing cutting edge technologies. I also really love how interdisciplinary and collaborative the aerospace industry is, involving the skills, drive, and passion of engineers of all backgrounds and disciplines. I am extremely excited to work with this talented team at Apex and I am looking forward to having components that I will have worked on fly in space!

Q: What was your favorite class at Caltech?

My favorite class at Caltech was probably the first mechanical engineering class I took -  my mechanics of materials class taught by Professor Michael Mello. He was an extremely dedicated teacher and the way he teaches made the content crystal clear and fun to learn. This class taught me how to solve difficult problems, and there were certain approaches to take to any problem and work through step by step based on first principles.  

Q: What project are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my mechanical engineering capstone design robotics project at Caltech which involved designing, machining, and assembling both a dual RC/autonomous wheeled robot and an RC controlled linkage robot for a sumo-style pushing competition. I worked primarily on the linkage robot, and developing this mechanism posed an interesting mechanical design challenge. I loved that I was able to learn my way around most of the machine shop tools from taking this class. Developing the robot took a number of design iterations, trial and error, along with hardware tweaking, but it ended up dominating during the mock competition and won the majority of its matches during the final competition!

Q: What’s your favorite hobby?

I’m a huge cat person. My mom volunteered at an animal shelter for the first 14 years of my life, so I spent a lot of time helping her with vet runs, socializing cats that were new to the shelter, and working at shelter fundraising events. I’ve always had several cats at home, and when I went off to college I was heartbroken to leave my cats behind. Fortunately, I found a group that took care of the feral cats on campus and I helped feed them a couple times a week. Now that I’m back home, I am fostering a few cats and helping them become more social. I’m always taking pictures of both the fosters and the permanent feline residents at my house.

I also enjoy going to Disneyland, playing volleyball, and ice skating!

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