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Engineering alumnus award goes to Jones

By Lynn Nystrom

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 30 - May 1, 1997

Mary Virginia Jones, one of the first women to graduate with honors in engineering from Virginia Tech in 1962, will return to her alma mater on May 10 to receive her college's Distinguished Alumnus Award.

"Ms. Jones has demonstrated time and again her willingness to serve as a role model for women in the engineering profession. She is routinely selected as a spokesperson on propulsion systems, engineering education, and women in the technical workforce. She is truly one of the pioneers of women in this highly competitive, highly technical arena. Her life is full of `firsts,' a true epitome of a lifetime of achievements," said F. William Stephenson, dean of the College of Engineering.

"I don't know of another company whose chief design engineer--the head of rocket-motor design--is a woman. And she is a woman who worked her way up through the ranks of this business. She was hired on at Atlantic Research Corporation 26 years ago," said Antonio L. Savoca in 1990 when he served as president and CEO of ARC.

Jones started working with ARC of Gainesville as a structural engineer. Her resume clearly speaks for her rapid advancement in the company. She has spent the past 35 years, a true lifetime in terms of a career, dedicated to improving engineering in a defense-oriented industry. She has spent her professional career in a male-dominated field, and her contributions in the technical arena allowed her to move to management positions within ARC. When Jones moved into management, she was the first and remains the only woman at ARC to have held two of the four director of engineering positions.

In 1993 she was given the position of director of program and engineering support for the Advanced Materials Division, where she directed the work of bringing the titanium metal-matrix composite (TMC) into the first production for aircraft-engine components after 10 years of development. Her responsibilities have encompassed $10 million in U.S. Air Force contracts for a TMC piston actuator and management of a six-company consortium project to implement TMC in commercial- and military-aircraft engines.

She is presently the technical director for the Solid Propulsion Division. In this position she serves as the technical director for all of the major new business initiatives for the division. Her expertise is in solid-propellant rocket-motor design.

During the early part of her career, she conducted structural and thermal analysis of metal and plastics parts and solid propellant, as well as the mechanical design of hardware. She devoted part of her career as the chief engineer on the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), and is known by her peers as the definitive expert on the engineering development of the rocket motors for the MLRS. ARC subsequently produced more than 500,000 systems that earned revenues of more than $230 million. In her capacity as the lead technical person on this project, she met all design and cost goals. She headed the development of the process and design for molding the motor nozzle from a thermosetting plastic that reduced the cost by 90 percent.

During the time Jones was the chief engineer on this program, she achieved an 18-percent reduction in the cost of production of MLRS. The U.S. Army has made several commendations on the MLRS, all attesting to the robust design and high quality of the product. She also served as ARC's chief design engineer on the Tomahawk MK-106 Booster.

With defense cutbacks over the past several years, Jones is credited with redirecting ARC engineering resources from solely defense applications to a broadened commercial market. She was instrumental in the Department of Defense initiative within ARC to apply its propulsion expertise to an automotive airbag inflation product line and advanced materials for commercial aircraft parts.

In terms of career "firsts" as a woman, Jones was the first woman registered as a professional engineer by the Commonwealth of Virginia. This affiliation occurred five years after her graduation in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech. (She was the only woman in her class.) She was the first woman appointed to the State Board of Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Landscape Architects, a position she held from 1984-88. She was the first woman engineer appointed by a Virginia governor to serve on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, 1984-88. She was the first woman to receive her alma mater's highest honor, the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. Until 1995, she was the only woman to have served on the Virginia Tech College of Engineering's Advisory Board. (She also chaired this board.)