Launch PAD aims to help personnel achieve career liftoff

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

The term “launch pad” has multiple meanings.

It can refer to the platform from which rockets, missiles and vehicles blast into the sky. Throughout the years, Arnold Engineering Development Complex personnel have helped develop various articles ultimately propelled from launch pads.

Figuratively, it can also describe something that serves to boost a pursuit.

This is the type of launch pad a group of AEDC employees had in mind when they spearheaded an initiative to help colleagues, particularly those near the beginning of their professional journeys, propel their careers.

This program, aptly known as Launch PAD, came to fruition early this year. The “PAD” stands for “Professional Acclimation & Development.” Launch PAD is an employee resource group that seeks to provide newer AEDC employees with professional development resources and assistance acclimating to a professional working environment.

Launch PAD was devised by Kristen Erickson, a test engineer in the 716th Test Squadron at Arnold Air Force Base, headquarters of AEDC. Erickson, along with fellow Launch PAD directors Craig Morris and Josh Webb, both lead engineers in the 716TS at Arnold, and Kristy Jones, program support for the AEDC Technical and Management Advisory Services contractor, all felt there was a lack of development opportunities for young professionals within AEDC and there was a limited number of organizations, events and activities that would allow Department of Defense and contractor employees to intermingle.

“We wanted to create something to not only help sharpen professional skills and develop new employee careers, but also encourage socializing across the base and expand network and support systems,” Erickson said.

Launch PAD is open to all AEDC employees, including contractors. The program mission is to support young professionals in the first five years of their careers. Organizers see the program as an avenue to help fellow employees grow and develop professionally; become a better co-worker, teammate and leader; and grow their networks.

The program consists of four focus areas:

  • Ground Support Systems – This area focuses on supporting members in their current job positions. It includes a review of basic job expectations and providing job resources and information, so members know where or who to go to with questions or issues.
  • The Launch Vehicle – This area focuses on bolstering professional and personal development. It includes topics such as work-life balance, diversity in the workplace, working with others in challenging situations and improving professional skills.
  • The Trajectory – This area focuses on career assessment and goal setting. Members can examine available career paths and receive help planning the steps for the path they wish to take. Topics include how to respond to a career misstep or mistake and how to improve employee evaluations.
  • SPACE/Launch Environment – Focuses on steps that can be taken outside of the workspace to spur professional and personal development. Members are encouraged to read technical papers; learn what’s going on in industry and technology; look at the past, present and future of AEDC; and take part in Launch PAD events outside of Arnold.

Since Launch PAD formed in January, in-person professional development meetings have taken place at Arnold once every couple of weeks. Topics are rotated every meeting.

“Launch PAD is structured to be a two- to three-year program where we exhaust a large list of professional development, AEDC-specific information, job support and career planning topics,” Erickson said. “After all topics are covered, we will repeat everything on a cycle so new members can join at any time during the course of the program and continue on until they start overlapping sessions, at which point they would ‘graduate’ from the program.”

Erickson said the response to Launch PAD has been strong. Several dozen employees have already joined the group mailing list, and the majority of these folks are active Launch PAD members. Organizers are urging anyone interested in the program to reach out and take part.

“We are always looking at growing Launch PAD, and we encourage all new or interested employees to join us,” Erickson said.

Launch PAD has also created a base-wide professional mentorship program at Arnold in which mentors and mentees from different areas on base are paired for one-on-one career support. Program organizers are looking for more team members to serve as mentors.

“While Launch PAD is aimed at younger professionals, we are also always seeking awesome mentors to add to our program,” Erickson said. “As we get new members throughout the year, we will also need new mentors, so it’s never too late to reach out.”

Organizers wish to feature guest speakers from across Arnold at Launch PAD meetings and are looking for AEDC leaders and subject matter experts who may be interested in sharing their experiences or knowledge on a specific subject.

“We are open to many topics and are also specifically seeking those who can present about the history of specific facilities; extreme challenges that were overcome; previous experiences, such as test pilot, researcher, etcetera; and leadership roles,” Erickson said. 

Participation in Launch PAD isn’t all work and no play. Erickson said members will be invited to take part in after-work socials and join group trips and events outside of work, such as the Great Tennessee Air Show set to take place in Smyrna in June.

Erickson said there is no formal membership process to join Launch PAD, and those interested may simply attend one of the group’s meetings. They do encourage all interested persons to contact the group by email at to be added to the distribution list in order to be made aware of all future meetings, events and receive the quarterly Launch PAD newsletters.

Those wishing to become a Launch PAD mentor or speak at an upcoming meeting of the group may express interest by also contacting the group at the email provided above.  

The Launch PAD group has a SharePoint page that provides information on upcoming sessions and events. To access the page, click “SharePoint” in the upper left corner of the Team AEDC page. Once directed to the AEDC SharePoint page, search “Launch PAD” in the bar located at the top-center of the screen. Click “AEDC Launch PAD” from the displayed results.