Talent Case Study: Ethan Och: Launching a Career in Aerospace Engineering
Hard work, perseverance and an in-demand skillset lay the foundation for breaking into a competitive field.
Ethan Och may be from a small town, but his work has national impact. The 24-year-old from Swanville, MN develops satellite mission planning software for Northrop Grumman Corporation (NGC), one of the world’s largest aerospace and defense companies.
Ethan, who has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition that impacts his mobility, became interested in science and engineering while in high school. This led him to major in aerospace engineering at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, with minors in astrophysics and computer science. He earned several scholarships to fund his education, including the Buuck Family Scholarship, and was a Presidential Scholar. While in college, Ethan was active in science and engineering student groups and assisted the university’s Small Satellite Research Lab in developing a CubeSat, a very small satellite that was launched into orbit.
Ethan graduated from college in the spring of 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made job searching challenging. While he initially had a “soft offer” upon graduation, the company froze its hiring program due to the pandemic. Ethan continued his job search for more than a year. During this time, a friend encouraged him to apply for Disability:IN’s NextGen Leader Initiatives.
Ethan was accepted and started the program in the spring of 2021 through Disability:IN Minnesota. He attended Disability:IN’s Annual Conference remotely and participated in the NextGen Leadership Academy, where he connected with employers in his field. He was also matched with mentors who assisted with his job search. Ethan credits his mentors, as well as his persistence and determination, for helping him stay focused on his goal of working in aerospace engineering.
His experience as a NextGen Leader also drove home the value of networking, which helped connect him with companies like NGC. A job posting at NGC caught his eye because it was a remote work position that would allow him to put his interests, degree and experience to use. According to Ethan, remote work “allows people with disabilities to participate more in the workforce and not have to deal with things like commuting and transportation issues.”
He accepted the position as a software engineer with NGC’s Tactical Space Systems Division in the fall of 2021, choosing it over another offer because of the ability to telework. He also appreciates the company’s inclusive culture, which includes mandatory diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility training. These types of trainings help create a sense of “belonging and comradery among employees,” he says.
NGC has “done a lot to make sure I feel included and involved,” he adds, such as ensuring he has what he needs to work remotely. He received some low-cost accommodations, including an accessible mouse and headset. He joined the company’s disability-focused employee resource group and hopes to take an active role in disability inclusion issues.
Ethan encourages employers interested in hiring people with disabilities to offer more remote work opportunities. “Companies are bound to find motivated and qualified people in the disability community. What the pandemic has shown us is that we can make teleworking work, and that it opens the door to a more diverse talent pool,” he says. His advice for other young people with disabilities is to set their goals high and constantly strive to achieve them.
Thanks to his hard work, perseverance and in-demand skillset, Ethan is proving his value to NGC and increasing the representation of people with disabilities in the aerospace engineering field.