Electrical engineering student carves path to NASA

UC’s Freshman Engineering Program provided Anna Lanzillotta time to choose the right major

“When you stick to your passions, things have a way of leading you in the right direction,” said University of Cincinnati student Anna Lanzillotta.

Anna Lanzillotta headshot

Anna Lanzillotta. Photo/Provided.

For Lanzillotta, discovering her passions in engineering started with some frustration, which ultimately put her on a path toward an exciting future career that merges all of her interests. 

When Lanzillotta, now a third-year electrical engineering student, first applied and was accepted to UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS), she wasn’t admitted to the highly competitive aerospace engineering program, which had been her dream while in high school. 

Instead, she started her education at UC in the college’s Freshman Engineering Program (FEP). FEP offers freshman students the flexibility to take foundational engineering courses to explore the various facets of engineering before applying to transition into a specific major such as chemical engineering or construction management. It’s ideal for incoming freshman who are either undecided on their specific engineering major or who aren’t accepted directly to their preferred major. 

Lanzillotta spent her first two semesters taking FEP courses and introductory aerospace engineering courses, still hoping to gain entry to aerospace. Throughout her first-year courses, she discovered she also had an interest in electrical engineering and when she applied again to aerospace engineering without admittance, she opted to major in electrical engineering. 

Anna Lanzillotta leads the UC Marching Band in a parade

Anna Lanzillotta spent two years in the UC Marching Band, including a year as drum major. Photo/Provided.

“I’m especially grateful for FEP because it let me stay confidently in the engineering field of study while not forcing me to choose a discipline. I had the opportunity to try out different things before determining that electrical engineering was right for me,” Lanzillotta said.  

Music serves as a creative outlet and mental refresh from her academic studies. Lanzillotta has been a musician for a decade playing the trumpet, French horn, mellophone and double second steel drum. She was a member of the UC Marching Band for two years, with a leadership role as drum major her second year. 

Upon learning about signal processing and signal analysis in her electrical engineering classes, Lanzillotta realized that electrical engineering could apply to audio – a topic of importance to any musician. 

And then the stars aligned for Lanzillotta. She landed a dream co-op job at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for the 2019 fall semester as an audio systems engineer. She worked in the audio group of the human interface branch, which deals with human interactions and communications in space. One project enabled her to conduct audio analysis of the speakers and microphones that will be used inside the next generation spacesuit for future Artemis missions. 

Anna Lanzillotta poses in front of a NASA sign.

Anna Lanzillotta landed a dream co-op position at NASA's Johnson Space Center for the fall 2019 semester. Photo/Provided.

“Somehow I magically found this co-op that combined my love for aerospace, my love for electrical engineering and my love for music and audio,” Lanzillotta said. “That wouldn’t have happened if I had made it into the aerospace program.”

This summer, Lanzillotta may have the chance to return to the Johnson Space Center for another co-op that would continue the work she was doing in 2019. She was recently accepted to the University Honors Program and hopes to incorporate a study abroad experience before she finishes her degree. 

Lanzillotta cites her mother and her sister as her personal mentors and role models paving the way as successful women in STEM. Her mother, Jennifer Lanzillotta, is a practicing nurse-anesthetist and assistant professor at UC’s College of Nursing who recently earned her Ph.D. in opioid epidemic research. Her sister, Lindsay Lanzillotta, will graduate from UC this year with a degree in biomedical engineering

In the future, Lanzillotta can envision herself working in the aerospace industry as an electrical engineer or working for a company like Bose or Ultimate Ears. 

“I’m very confident that electrical engineering was the place for me,” Lanzillotta said. “I’ve found each of my electric engineering classes fascinating and I think it covers a broad range of applications that, post-graduation, could possibly lead me back to the aerospace industry if I wish to venture that direction.”

Featured image at top: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, left, high-fives Kristine Davis, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, showing off a ground prototype of NASA’s new spacesuit at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Photo/NASA/Joel Kowsky