Grad Profile: From camouflage to cap and gown

Marine Veteran Christopher Phillips not only graduates with his aerospace engineering degree but also with a network of lifelong connections and resources.

Friday, May 10, 2024
SDSU graduate Christopher Phillips in his cap and gown poses with his wife standing on the USS Midway, a historical naval aircraft carrier turned into a museum
Christopher Phillips and his wife standing on the USS Midway during the 2024 San Diego State University Inaugural Veteran Commencement Ceremony (Photo taken by: Denise Graham)

Critical thinking. Adaptability. Leadership. Teamwork. Perseverance.

Aerospace engineering and serving in the U.S. Marines have a lot more in common than meets the eye. 

After serving nine and a half years in the military, Christopher Phillips (‘24) enrolled in San Diego State University to become an engineer. 

Five years later, he marched across the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier at SDSU’s Inaugural Veteran Commencement Ceremony holding a degree in aerospace engineering, focusing on aerodynamics. 

Phillips believes his special operations training as a Marine Raider prepared him to excel in the San Diego State University Aerospace Engineering program

“Coming from my background, you have a lot of responsibility at a young age, and you're usually given a problem set and you have to figure out how to solve it,” said Phillips. 

He credits the transferable skills of “leadership, problem-solving skills, and not quitting,” for helping him push through the rigorous courses, late-night study sessions, and challenging projects.

“I’m not the best academic student by any means but I stayed as faithful as I could by working hard and being determined,” he said.  

Veteran Support in the College of Engineering

The College of Engineering’s Troops to Engineers (T2E) program continues to support student veterans who aspire to earn their degrees and lead successful careers.

Through the transition from Marine to full-time student, Phillips discovered the array of resources available to him and other military veterans. 

Once accepted into SDSU, he was promptly contacted by the T2E program to get him involved in the weekly leadership classes, networking events, and workshops. 

It wasn’t long before Phillips established a tight-knit group of friends and support systems on campus. 

He shared how the T2E program provided him with invaluable opportunities such as interview preparation, resume support, alumni panels, and networking events with various engineering professionals, to prepare him for the transition into industry.

“Mine [experience] has been very involved with the professors, hanging out with the Troops to Engineering program, the other veterans in electrical or mechanical, I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been very good,” he said.

Camaraderie at SDSU 

With several deployments under his belt, Phillips knows firsthand how important it is to surround yourself with people who you can count on. Not only did he discover that in the Marines, he also found it beneficial when working on engineering projects such as the Senior Design course.

The two-semester project where students conceptualize, design, and build an inventive project is essential to exposing the realities that pair with working on a team of engineers in the professional world.

This course is an opportunity for students to apply their technical, interpersonal, and collaborative skills learned in the classroom to engineer a solution to a societal or human problem.

For Phillips, the team-building aspect really resonated and helped propel their group project toward success. 

“It’s really cool being in Professor Katz’s Senior Design Course where we’re building a drone now and we’re able to take a bunch of the stuff we’ve learned from Professor Butler’s classes and stability controls classes he teaches, and implement that into the design process.” 

Though this was one of the most challenging projects he’s worked on, it was also one of Phillips’ favorite memories from his time at SDSU. 

He reflected on the time their group presented their project in front of a panel of leaders from companies such as General Atomics and Lockheed Martin, who provided professional insight and feedback on their designs. 

“We’ve worked really hard on it and it’s been really fun getting to know everybody, and we’ve all become friends out of it.” 

While the team officially concluded their project at the 2024 Senior Design Day event in early May, he is graduating from SDSU with lifelong friends and a network of other like-minded people. 

Beginning this summer, Phillips will be applying his critical thinking, collaborative, and technical engineering skills to his new position at a research and development firm in Temecula, California. 

To provide a gift to support the Troops to Engineering Program at SDSU, contact Senior Director of Development Kate Carinder at [email protected].

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