Former New Kensington student cited for work on national defense systems

March 17, 2016

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. — Former Penn State New Kensington student Lisa Veitch was honored recently for her career achievements by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA).

Veitch, a weapons systems analyst for IDA, received the 2015 Andrew J. Goodpaster Award for Excellence in Research. The award recognizes Veitch’s two decades of significant research and analyses, most recently her assessments for the development of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and the next presidential helicopter.

“Two attributes stand out in Dr. Veitch’s work — engineering excellence and impact,” said David S.C. Chu, IDA president. “The extraordinary technical competence, creativity, objectivity, and perseverance demonstrated and sustained by Dr. Veitch — qualities we all admire and strive for — make her a most deserving recipient.”

Named in honor of the former IDA president and trustee, the Goodpaster Award is presented annually to an individual who has demonstrated exceptional analytic achievement within the IDA research community.

Located in Alexandria, Virginia, the institute is a nonprofit corporation that operates three federally funded research and development centers to provide objective analyses of national security issues, particularly those requiring scientific and technical expertise.

As a weapons system analyst, Veitch provides independent technical assessments on weapons, technology and policies that are supported by the Department of Defense. It’s a job where routine days are not the norm.

“When you’re involved in the most expensive fighter aircraft program in the world, you sometimes don’t have any control over your days or nights,” said Veitch, who began her career in 1989 with NASA as a materials research scientist and moved on to IDA 10 years later.

Veitch served as the executive secretary for two independent teams that examined JSF initial production issues and reviewed the test plans for the replacement of the presidential helicopter program. The Joint Strike Fighter is a development and acquisitions program for tactical aircraft to replace existing fighter, strike and attack aircraft. Veitch’s team provided an assessment of JSF flight test progress. The report highlighted a number of items of concern that were later addressed satisfactorily. She continues to lead a team that is currently monitoring JSF durability testing.

Veitch’s presidential helicopter team reviewed the first presidential helicopter program that was to replace the aging Marine One helicopter that transports the president of the United States. The findings served as the basis for a new presidential helicopter program, which was awarded to Sikorsky Aircraft. The latest helicopter is expected to be ready during the next president’s administration.

Engineering roots
A Plum Borough native, Veitch attended the New Kensington campus for two years before earning a bachelor’s degree in ceramic science and engineering from Penn State University Park. She received a doctorate in materials engineering from Purdue University.

Although she completed her undergraduate studies at University Park, Veitch credits the New Kensington campus as the springboard for her vocation. After graduating from Plum High School, she vacillated on the merits of attending college before choosing New Kensington because it was close to home.

“I wasn’t sure if college was right for me, but New Kensington gave me confidence in myself, and I thrived in both academics and leadership positions,” said Veitch, who was an officer on the board of the Student Government Association. “The students and faculty have always been great.”

Campus faculty inspired her to utilize her math and science talents to pursue an engineering degree. Clarence “Bill” Finley, associate professor of chemistry, was her favorite professor. Finley retired in 2007 after 25 years at the campus,

“Dr. Finley and I are still friends to this day,” Veitch said. “New Kensington is really home to me. I have many fond memories of being a student here, working in the labs in the summers and coming back to visit.”

Campus ties
Veitch stays connected to the campus as a guest speaker for engineering classes. In the past three years, she has twice been the guest speaker for the Intro to Engineering Design class of Joan Kowalski, senior instructor in engineering at the campus. The class is a required course in the four-year electro-mechanical engineering technology program. Veitch talked with the first-year students about engineering careers.

“Lisa shared her 30 years of experience as an engineer,” said Kowalski, who joined the campus faculty in 1987. “Her presentations give the freshmen engineers exposure to the world of engineering.”

Harking back to her days at the campus and fast-forwarding to working at NASA and researching for the U.S. Department of Defense, Veitch gives the budding engineers a glimpse of the various careers that await them.

The Goodpaster Award recipient also delivered the campus' fall 2013 commencement address. She stressed to the new alumni that learning doesn't end after graduation, and that the world is their new classroom.

“Your degree is a license to learn,” Veitch said. “You’ve been taught how to find answers, solve problems, work through issues, communicate to others, etc. But you have a whole lot more to learn. Keep an open mind, don’t be afraid to try something that is totally out of your area of expertise or comfort zone.”

Veitch resides in Alexandria and spends her leisure time in the air and under water. Veitch holds a private pilot’s license for single-engine planes, and she is a certified scuba diver. When her feet are on the ground, she enjoys playing the piano and ballroom dancing.

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Last Updated April 11, 2016