Sept. 8, 2023
man standing with arms crossed in front of small propeller plane

Dimitri Ververelli graduated with Honors in Aerospace Engineering in 2011. He now works as a flight test engineer at Pax River Naval Air Station in Maryland.

Interview by Candice Crossey, 
Assistant Director for Donor and Alumni Relations

man on a boat in front of sunset with water in background

Tell us about yourself:

I graduated from the University of Arizona in the spring of 2011 as an Aerospace Engineer. I currently work as a flight test engineer at Pax River Naval Air Station in Maryland. Previously I worked for Raytheon and prior to that, I worked for Northrop-Grumman.

For the last two years, I have been working on my master’s degree at UAZ which allows me to play for the ultimate frisbee men’s team: Sunburn. About a year ago I earned my private pilot’s license which I discovered to be one of my biggest passions. This was not a surprise as I knew it likely would be ever since I was a small child growing up with movies like Star Wars and The Right Stuff. The reason I left Arizona to work for the Navy in Maryland is related to that passion. My plan is to apply for Test Pilot School and afterward apply once again to become a NASA astronaut. Hopefully, this time with a master’s degree, test pilot school, and a pilot’s license my application will be more likely considered. Outside of flying and frisbee, another passion I discovered in Maryland is sailing. In general flying in the wind seems to be something I enjoy.

In what ways has your Franke Honors experience had an impact on your career path and who you are today? Who or what inspired you most?

I say with pride that I graduated with honors from the University of Arizona. My biggest inspiration from the Franke Honors College must be Dr. Pollard. After running into Dr. Pollard at the family weekend presidential tailgate last year, I have become much more involved with Franke Honors, attending mixers, and supporting current Franke Honors undergrads. Dr. Pollard was my undergraduate chemistry professor, and he made my freshman year of college very enjoyable. Some of my friends in that class even switched majors to chemistry due to how much fun we all had in that class while also learning the subject matter to an incredible degree. Dr. Pollard is an outstanding professor and the perfect candidate for Dean of the Honors College. 

As an Aerospace Engineer, what are you most passionate about in your work? What are some of your biggest rewards, and challenges?

As an Aerospace Engineer, I am most passionate about flight testing. With Northrop, I launched two rockets which were both successfully intercepted by the Missile Defense Agency countermeasure systems. With Raytheon, I was the test director in the control room for a weapon that was successfully fielded on F/A-18E/F and F-35B after numerous flight tests. Those endeavors came with great challenges though. In-flight tests do not always work out as they were planned. In fact, it seems like the stars must align to have a successful flight test, but when it goes as planned there are few things that make me feel more accomplished. Engineering is about solving problems and many challenges come up. It is overcoming those challenges that make a great engineer. Typically, this means diving into what went wrong and coordinating with all the teams to pinpoint the issue and present the findings to a chief engineer (and sometimes the customer directly), along with a solution or path forward. I cannot express how important it is to get that part down. It will happen many times throughout an engineer’s career, and it will feel very challenging. However, solving those difficult problems is engineering.

As a graduate of the College of Engineering, what advice would you give to current students?

As mentioned before, it is all about problem-solving. This includes identifying a problem and presenting those findings to a panel, chief engineer, customer, etc., and finally suggesting a path forward or solution to the problem. My advice for current students is to be happy that your coursework has definitive solutions. In the real world, problems are usually very open-ended. But take comfort in knowing you can solve very difficult problems that you learned in school. It will give you the confidence to solve the problems you face as an engineer.

There are many ways for alumni to give back. What forms of engagement do you look for or find most valuable?

I have attended a couple of Franke Honors alumni mixers which have been fun and were great ways to meet other alumni and recent graduates, and some who have yet to graduate. The mixers are nice ways to feel appreciated for all the hard work that was put into graduating with honors. I also served on a Franke Honors thesis panel in the spring which felt like a great way to give back. The panel had multiple questions which I believe helped current students feel more encouraged about the difficulties of working through classes and the extra work that is necessary to graduate with honors.

As a proud UAZ Honors Alumni, what were some of your favorite college memories?

Competing in my senior design project in the place I now work is probably my highlight, along with all the friends I made and the good times we had. I am still friends with my study group from undergrad today. As a grad student, playing for Sunburn is my favorite memory.

Any final words of wisdom for current Franke Honors students, or young alumni who are just starting out in their careers?

Find your passion and pursue it.