Alumni Spotlight - Justin Bailey

Boeing Engineer and Fifth-Generation Farmer

By Dana Chrysler
Everett Community College Alumni Outreach Specialist

From an early age, EvCC alum Justin Bailey knew that he wanted to be a pilot. When his dream of flying was ruled out due to bad eyesight, he decided to pursue aviation in another way. The whiz at math and science set his sights on aerospace engineering. Two years before graduating high school, he began attending Running Start classes at EvCC, eventually graduating community college and the University of Washington. Today, Justin works in his dream job as an aeronautical engineer for Boeing. He is the Build Integration Hardware Manager for the 747-8 program, following the airplane’s product lifecycle through design development to production and delivery. In this interview, Justin explains how growing up on a Snohomish farm led to his aeronautical career.

Where did you grow up and graduate from high school?

I grew up on a dairy farm in Snohomish and graduated from Snohomish High School in 2005.

Was there a selection process for attending EvCC?

I had already started at EvCC two years before I graduated from high school, through the Running Start program. I took engineering courses there and determined exactly what career path I wanted to take: I wanted to go into aerospace engineering.

How did you know that?

Because I love airplanes. I would have been a fighter pilot, but my eyesight was so bad, it was ruled out.

How far back did you know that you wanted to be a pilot? Was there some exposure you had to aircraft when you were young?

Probably around 13, I figured that out. I’ve always been very good at math and science, so it lent itself naturally to engineering. I always figured if I couldn’t fly an airplane, the next best thing would be to design and build one.

I’m curious: how do you get interested in aeronautical engineering while working on a dairy farm?

[Laughing] Just loving flying, basically, and having a passion for it. Boeing actually used to send fuselage sections down to Renton on the rail line that goes right by the farm, so every now and then, I’d see these fuselages passing by.

How long were you at EvCC?

Two years:  2005 to 2007, full time. Before that, I took one class per quarter while I was in high school. I tried to schedule my classes in the morning so I could go home and work on the farm the rest of the day and then study the rest of the night. I didn’t have any student loans; I paid for college flat out. Now I’m a fifth-generation farmer and an engineer at Boeing. [Smiling]

Did you have any mentors or teachers, people that you especially remember from that time?

Oh, yeah. Eric Davishahl, one of my engineering instructors, prepped us very well for the rigors of engineering courses. When you take an engineering course, there are typically 80 students to begin with; you can’t find a seat at the beginning. After two weeks, there are probably about a third of the students left. It set me up for any kind of work load that I’d ever experience at the university or graduate level.

What do you remember most about EvCC?

The constant strife to better the college. I sat on a student board (ASB board), and we would talk about 10-year plans. There were constant improvements and working with the universities to make the course transitions as smooth as possible and, basically, to give an education to folks in the northern part of Puget Sound where there’s not as much access to major universities.

Were you involved in any other activities while at EvCC?

Yes, the Human Powered Submarine Project, my last year there.

Please tell me about it.

Every year, there was a competition to design a submarine powered by a person. A bunch of universities, domestic and international, participate in the competition, along with anybody else who wants to enter. Every other year, the competition is switched between San Diego and Maryland. The year I went, the competition was in Maryland. I worked on the project as president of the group. We had to raise money for building the submarine, along with the travel expenses and getting scuba certified for it.

What kind of a submarine are we talking about?

They wouldn’t let us build a pressurized submarine, so we couldn’t have air in there. But it had to be neutrally buoyant, so that way, it wouldn’t just take off in any one direction. That’s why we had to get scuba certified--that’s how we would breathe while operating the submarine. We were competing against graduate students and were actually the only junior college in the competition.

How did your team do?

We did well, although we didn’t win. The school that won was from Canada and I think they had about a half a million dollar budget. We ended up raising $25,000 for everything. Another reason I was on the student board is because I learned the process of asking for money for the student general fund and other organizations at the college and reaching out to local businesses, like Everett Engineering.

Did you actually have to cold call these people?

Yes, very much so. If we didn’t have the money, we weren’t doing the projects. Basically, it was a design/build in a one-year time-frame. We started fall quarter and the competition was in the summer. The first quarter, we were working on the design and, in the meantime, I was working on raising money for it. The last two quarters was the build phase.

How many students worked on the project?

Originally, there were 15 of us. By the time it was done, there were five or six.

How would you describe EvCC?

Constantly striving for success. I got that impression from faculty, from administration, and from the students, too. The neat thing about going to a community college is that you’re not necessarily in classes with a bunch of kids right out of high school--you get a much broader base of folks. You could be sitting in a class with someone who has had experience working in a certain field for 50 years and they want to change their career path. They have experience and they are slower, more methodical, and wiser, so you get a more broad education and much more of a one-on-one education than going to a university and sitting in a general course with a thousand kids. For the price of community college, the education is vastly superior.

What did you do after you graduated from EvCC?

I attended the University of Washington (UW) and graduated from there in 2009 with a degree in aeronautical engineering. After I graduated from the UW, I went back to work on the farm because there weren’t a ton of jobs out there at the time. However, from the time I started looking for a job to when I got my job at Boeing was probably only three months or so.

What is a typical day for you at Boeing?

Interfacing with different groups. I’m constantly working with bettering the production system. I want to make sure if I’m implementing something, I’m validating that it’s working correctly.

What do you find rewarding about what you do?

Getting to see the aircraft take off and knowing that I have touched part of the airplane which is actually going to a customer--and knowing that I’m making it better and what actually went into building that aircraft . . . it’s very rewarding. I really enjoy what I’m doing right now. The neat thing about Boeing is that there are so many opportunities. You’re encouraged to try different things and to become more well rounded.

Lastly, do you have any words of advice for current EvCC students?

Try and figure out what you want to do in your career as early as possible. I’ve seen a lot of kids sit and waste a lot of time and money trying to figure out what they want to do. Go out there and talk to instructors, to people in industry and see what it’s really like. The neat thing about the submarine project we did in college is that I was actually interfacing with people who own engineering companies and they let me work hand-in-hand with their engineers, so I got to see what a day to day role would be as far as engineering is concerned.
Take as many opportunities that the college provides. Partner with other educational institutions as well. Businesses are very willing to teach and learn because they want a well educated work force coming forward.  Definitely going above and beyond the curriculum is big. Definitely push yourself as much as you can, because as you go up, the courses are only going to get more challenging. The more you push yourself early on, the more trained you’ll be, the more successful you’ll be. Nowadays, you’re competing with folks from all over the world, so it’s not like it used to be.