Growing up, Chris Jelks always wanted to be a physician – even though his mother reminded him that he couldn’t stand the sight of blood after seeing a scary movie. Then in 1996 he saw the film Independence Day and that inspired his interest in becoming an aerospace engineer.
“Most of the astronauts I researched were aerospace engineers,” he said. “And I identified with that.” As it turned out, he lived just a short distance from one of the best aerospace programs in the country, the University of Cincinnati. “Neil Armstrong – the first man to walk on the moon – once taught there,” says Chris.”
Chris came by his engineering talent naturally. He describes his dad as a textbook fixer-upper kind of guy “He had this curiosity about how things worked,” says Chris. “I grew up taking things apart and building projects with my father.”
That was almost 12 years ago. Today he is part of the advanced program and technology organization and is a project leader in the competitive analysis and product strategy group. “I spent the early part of my career in hardware design,” he says. “Now I focus on a broad array of technologies used in the industry. We use the information to benchmark our products and performance so that Pratt & Whitney remains the industry leader.”
Chris is a firm believer in UTC’s culture of lifelong learning. He is enrolled in the company’s Employee Scholar Program and is pursuing a master’s degree in systems engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He has also been a member of the National Society of Black Engineers for 17 years and is on the board of the Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program, which encourages young people to pursue STEM careers.
When he works with students, he doesn’t underestimate the hard work it takes to be an engineer. “Engineering is math intensive,” he says, “and a lot of folks are scared by that. I remember flipping to the back of my calculus book my first day as an engineering freshman. I saw all of those equations, and thought it was so complex that I wouldn’t be able to learn all of it. But I did. You take it one day at a time, you apply yourself, and you don’t get intimidated.”
He also tells young people that engineering will give them the opportunity to change the world. “And that’s not blowing smoke,” he says. “Engineers shape society.”