Isa Peterson, 26, is proof a bachelor’s degree from a small private college in Kenosha can take you places — and can lead to a lucrative career.
The Kenosha native — a graduate of Bradford High School with a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy from Carthage College — is now an aerospace engineer in Silicon Valley, California.
In basic terms, it is Peterson’s job to position large telecommunication satellites into place 22,300 miles above Earth after their launch for Space Systems/Loral, a commercial satellite provider in Palo Alto, Calif.
In today’s economy, many are questioning whether it is worth it to go to college, or are worried they won’t be able to get a job after graduation. But Peterson landed a career in a growing field with a typical starting salary of around $75,000 upon completion of a master’s degree.
And, she said, it all started at a college with just 2,500 full-time undergraduate students. She credits her success to engaging professors and outstanding research opportunities. She said she valued the small classes where deep conversations are encouraged.
“I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do,” Peterson said of her plans when she entered Carthage.
She took a variety of advanced placement classes at Bradford, from art to physics.
“At Bradford, I was definitely in the art crowd,” she said, acknowledging Carthage also has a great arts program.
At Carthage, it was her science classes that inspired her.
“I just really fell in love with the subject matter,” she said. “The professors at Carthage are amazing and really engaged me.”
At Carthage, Peterson took part in NASA’s Systems Engineering Educational Discovery program. The program pairs college teams with NASA engineers to design and test experiments essential to NASA goals.
“It was an amazing opportunity and really solidified my goals,” Peterson said.
All Carthage students are challenged to perform original studies under the close guidance of the faculty as part of their courses of study. Dennis Munk, coordinator of undergraduate research, said this approach enhances learning by connecting lessons to real-world settings and requires students to respond to novel challenges.
Munk said surveys show those with undergraduate research experience are more likely to earn degrees and pursue advanced degrees.
Peterson graduated with bachelor’s degrees in physics and astronomy, and minor degrees in Spanish and math. She went on to earn a master’s degree from Purdue University in astronautical aerospace engineering.
She began looking for a job the December before graduating from Purdue and was hired by SSL by the end of March.
While Peterson ended up with degrees that led to a good paycheck, she said that was never the motivation.
“It was more so being able to secure a job in a field that is exciting, challenging and extremely interesting,” Peterson said. “I knew I would be happy with any sort of salary.”