Pay it forward: engineering training to support future engineers

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– Salvador Ordorica, a Penn State alumnus in architectural engineering and major in the United States Air Force, spent his childhood weekends differently than most children.

“My father worked the night shift as an air traffic controller in the Air Force, and I would go with him,” Ordorica said. “He would give me all the flight plans for the planes that were coming in and I would watch from the tower. Seeing all the planes land, seeing my dad in his uniform, the way he behaved, I knew the Air Force was what I wanted to be a part of.

Ordorica was born in Sacramento, California, and raised in Lincoln, California. He was two years old when his father joined the Air Force. He and his family traveled the world while his father was stationed in different places, living in England, Germany and Turkey. Ordorica’s father obtained a bachelor’s degree in the air force and two master’s degrees after his retirement.

Salvador Ordorica joined the United States Air Force in 2010 and received his Masters in Architectural Engineering from Penn State in 2018. Now he is returning to Penn State to begin a PhD program in Architectural Engineering, with an expected completion date in May 2024..

IMAGE: Provided by Salvador Ordorica

“Watching my father throughout his 23-year career in the Air Force and seeing him strive to learn more and more motivated me to pursue a college education,” Ordorica said.

Ordorica received her BS in Mechanical Engineering from California State University in May 2010 and joined the Air Force a month later. He received his Masters in Architectural Engineering from Penn State in 2018. Now he is returning to Penn State to begin a PhD program in Architectural Engineering, scheduled for completion in May 2024.

On obtaining his master’s degree, Ordorica was advised by Greg Pavlak, assistant professor of architectural engineering. Ordorica said he views Pavlak as an influential part of his educational journey and plans to work with Pavlak again when he returns to earn his doctorate.

“Salvador is dedicated and disciplined, while exuding humility,” Pavlak said. “It was a gift to be able to work with him during his masters program at Penn State. I am delighted to see Salvador take this new step in his career. When he contacted me about the possibility of returning for his PhD, the answer was clear – of course we would like to see him at Penn State again. Salvador has many qualities that will make him an excellent mentor for future students. I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to work with him again as he pursues his PhD.

Ordorica plans to continue its master’s work, focused on the construction of mechanical systems, specifically integrating renewable energies, such as solar energy, with conventional means of energy production.

“As a civil engineer, it is my responsibility to ensure that Air Force buildings and structures are not only maintained, but that they remain combat ready,” Ordorica said. “The facilities we are responsible for around the world are essential to our mission because they are the Air Force’s power projection platform. We are responsible for proposing and implementing solutions to complex problems, engineers ensure the efficient operation of our facilities and utilities. Being an engineer has taught me to think on my feet, constantly analyze problems and create solutions in innovative ways.

Since joining the Air Force, Ordorica has served as the Deputy Chief of Engineering, Project Manager and Project Programmer for the 319 Civil Engineer Squadron at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. In 2014, Ordorica was deployed to Ethiopia to serve as the Operations Director of Detachment 1 of the 409th Air Expeditionary Group.

“I knew I wanted to get into engineering because I’ve always loved taking things apart and seeing how they worked,” Ordorica said. “However, math was not one of my strong points when I was younger, but I really liked the subject.”

According to Ordorica, it was an Air Force B52 pilot who broadened his understanding of mathematical concepts and ultimately helped him decide to pursue engineering.

Currently, Ordorica teaches courses focused on mechanical system design at the Air Force Institute of Technology, but to become a full faculty member at the institute, he must complete his doctorate.

“I want to help other students in the same way my mentors have helped me,” Ordorica said. “There is so much more to learn about mechanical systems, and I want to use my PhD experience to create a new program for students.”

Ordorica, his wife of 11 years and three children moved to State College this month, as Ordorica prepares to start her first semester as a doctoral student.

“Going back to Penn State for my doctorate was a no-brainer for me,” he said. “It is a renowned school with a strong engineering program and excellent teachers who have helped me throughout my master’s program.”


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