Boeing engineer helps inspire next generation
By ADAM MCFADDEN
Renton Reporter Staff Writer
February 24, 2012 · Updated 8:55 AM
Tom Bradley was an engineer from the start and now, along with Boeing, he’s doing his best to get the word out about the profession to local youth.
“I was probably a born engineer and didn’t know it,” Bradley said. “I had every Erector set there was, I did all the science fairs growing up, but I didn’t know it was called engineering until I went to college.”
Bradley, who lives in Fairwood, was part of Boeing’s effort to send engineers to local middle and high schools last week. About 375 volunteers from Boeing gave 226 presentations at 47 schools, hoping to reach nearly 7,000 students.
Bradley has many reasons to talk up engineering as a career to students, but the most obvious is that it’s simply a good job.
“I’ve never been bored,” he said. “If there are students out there who will like it, I want to encourage them because I don’t think it’s going to disappoint them.”
After 40 years with Boeing, he’s also interested in bringing in the next waves of talent.
“I have an emotional investment in the company and I’d like to see that it keeps going,” he said. “The cool things we work on, if I get to hand them to someone in the next generation, that’s great.”
His willingness to invest in future generations of engineers comes at a critical time for Boeing and for the state.
Boeing will need thousands of engineers over the next several years as current ones retire in increasing numbers. To keep competitive with other aerospace centers in the country, Washington state is creating new engineering slots at Washington State University and the University of Washington to train their replacements.
Growing up in Montana with a host of outdoor hobbies, Bradley started at Montana State as a geology major. But it didn’t take him long to notice who was having all the fun.
“I noticed the engineering students were the ones that had all the interesting things to do,” he said. “They always had interesting homework and would get together in the common areas and work on these really cool things.”
When he went back to school as a sophomore, Bradley switched to an electrical engineering major. Boeing hired him over the phone in 1972, so he moved to Seattle with nothing but a phone number to call.
Bradley later earned his master’s degree in Physics from the University of Washington and earned status as an associate tech fellow at Boeing. He works as a radar analyst, which is a subset of the electrooptical physics group.
For the past 15 years he’s been volunteering at local schools, doing everything from tutoring elementary students, to giving presentations espousing the virtues of a career in engineering. He started in the Catholic school system because his son attended St. Anthony School in Renton but soon realized other schools needed help, too. Now he works mostly with schools in the Kent School District.
The volunteering has also led to a surprising realization for Bradley and possibly an idea for his next career.
“I like what I’m doing now, but this has been an eye-opener in that I like teaching,” Bradley said. “Maybe I’ll do that for my next adventure.”
For now though he’s happy with what he’s doing, working at Boeing and telling any student who will listen what engineering is all about.
“It’s a way to understand how the world works,” Bradley said. “It’s not just sitting around and thinking about it, it’s actually getting things in your hands and working it out.”
Contact Renton Reporter Staff Writer Adam McFadden at email@example.com or 425-255-3484.