Jennifer Ornelas became interested in the idea of joining the military in her junior and senior years of college. However, she wanted to find a way to use her degree in chemical engineering, which meant going on active duty was not an option.
Jennifer encountered her opportunity after working at her first job for about a year. Although she had a degree in chemical engineering, she worked mainly in the electrical engineering discipline as a hardware quality engineer for the Javelin Missile Program at Raytheon Missile Systems. While there, she was able to hear the stories of soldiers who had used the technology on which she had worked.
“The main military branch that uses the Javelin Missile is the Army, so I actually had an opportunity to hear stories about how real soldiers who had just gotten back from overseas had used the missiles and how thankful they were for it working and them being able to come back and be safe,” Jennifer says. “That was really touching. It was really cool to hear their stories just because it seemed like they appreciated all the freedoms we have a lot more than us civilians who don’t have that understanding and experience. It was really cool to see how close they all were to each other.”
These stories inspired her to join the Army Reserve. She is now in her fifth year of a six-year contract with the Army Reserve. Being part of the Reserve has allowed her to continue to work in her career while also gaining a unique experience outside a traditional career. Through the Army Reserve, Jennifer has also developed more leadership, teambuilding and communication skills.
“I think the Reserve [is] a perfect way to satisfy wanting to serve a bigger purpose and do my part while also being able to use my degree,” Jennifer says.
Now, Jennifer works with space satellites as an electrical design engineer at Northrop Grumman. She also works with the company to recruit and retain new engineers, meaning she has the opportunity to influence new engineers and share her own story.
Jennifer enjoys sharing her story with younger engineers because she encountered obstacles during her journey to becoming an engineer. She said that there were months during her bachelor’s programs when she doubted if she would reach her degree, and she had to retake some classes. However, she overcame these setbacks and now encourages others that they can still achieve dream jobs in engineering without being a perfect student.
Jennifer also tells younger engineers that they are not limited to one discipline within engineering, since she was able to enter electrical engineering by teaching herself much of the material through her own dedication and through work experience.
In addition to her roles in the Army Reserve and her career as an engineer, Jennifer recently began her own fitness apparel brand, Peachtails Apparel. As she expands her brand, she aims to create a tight-knit community of women supporting each other.
When Jennifer initially became interested in fitness brands, she joined another fitness community. However, she began to notice that some brands would not promote all the women involved in the brand, causing some women to feel left out or feel that they were not good enough.
“I thought to myself, it would be interesting to build my own fitness brand and try to basically do better at everything, especially with trying to make women who support us feel more empowered and feel better about themselves, and to encourage them to want more for themselves,” Jennifer says. “We want to build a community where women can come and feel comfortable and know that it is OK to do your own thing. We aren’t going to make you feel like an outsider just because you also have an entrepreneur dream.”
Jennifer said that she has accomplished what she has by remembering that she is capable of achieving anything with hard work.
“It’s not about what you were born with or what you are currently capable of; it is more so about how hard are you willing to work for something?” Jennifer says. “If you are willing to work hard and put in the work to become better, then you can achieve anything you want. You don’t have to already be the perfect person to join something or be part of something.”
Although Jennifer manages multiple roles, she does not have a particular method of organizing her life. In fact, she finds that much of the advice about sticking to a plan and getting enough sleep might not be feasible when trying to achieve a goal.
“If you are actually out there chasing your dreams, you are going to have sleepless nights and later on you can make that time up and sleep in another day,” Jennifer says. “Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get whatever it is you want done.”
As Jennifer looks toward the future, she is excited to continue to grow her fitness apparel brand and become more involved in recruitment at Northrop Grumman.
“'[She can be both]’ means to me that women can do anything that they set their heart and mind to,” Jennifer says. “It means just because you fit one mold or have one thing like your job or career, that doesn’t define you. You can do anything else that you want. If you want to be a fitness influencer online on top of your career, you can do that and you should feel empowered to want to do more.”