Pimentel traces her propensity for leadership back to her childhood when she had to grow up quickly and learn to take charge among her siblings. Upon entering college, she found multiple avenues to strengthen interpersonal relationships and technical acuity.
Pimentel quickly found a home in the Frith Engineering Design Laboratory, where students engage in hands-on learning, peer-mentoring, and problem-solving. This experience opened the door to undergraduate research in the Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She also pursued aerospace, mechanical, and electrical engineering research as a Hume Research Fellow at the National Security Institute, where she taught students how to lay up and cure composites, manufacture dielectric mixture coupons, print conductive traces onto composites, and conduct mechanical testing.
She took the lead in senior design, serving as the chief engineer for a team evaluating the impact of macrostructure on ultra-high temperature ceramic ablative performance using oxyacetylene torch testing. Pimentel showed excellent leadership skills, helped keep the team moving, and held everyone accountable, said Assistant Professor Carolina Tallon, who oversaw the project.
“The most amazing thing about Julia is how on earth she can do everything that she does so well while still being so approachable and kind and happy!” Tallon said.
Out of 16 design teams competing in the department this year, Pimentel’s team was one of six finalists selected to give formal talks to compete for best project of the year in the department. The winning team will be eligible to represent the department at the American Society for Metals International competition this fall.
Pimentel’s natural leadership also spills over into her extracurricular activities. She has performed with the Marching Virginians Color Guard for four years, serving as a captain during the 2019-20 season. She taught choreography for the flag and rifle spinners who perform at half-time during Hokie football games.
She discovered a passion for the outdoors during her summer internships with Lockheed Martin Space in 2020 and 2021 in Colorado, where she climbed 14ers, including Mount Bierstadt (14,065 ft.), went cliff jumping off St. Mary’s Glacier, and skydived for the first time.
She also enjoys competing in obstacle course races, most recently winning first place in her age group in a Spartan 5K run in Arizona and in the Navy Seal Bonefrog race at Virginia Beach.
“Because a large portion of engineering work is done indoors, I love going outside and doing anything outdoors,” Pimentel said. She has accepted a full-time position as a materials engineer at Lockheed Martin’s Materials Technology Laboratory in Colorado after graduation.
“I will conduct mechanical, thermal vacuum, machine certification, and additional destructive testing of a variety of materials and flight hardware, most notably additively manufactured materials, specialty polymers, composite sandwiches, and ceramic coupons,” she said. “It’s really cool to get your hands on the actual materials that engineers will use to build spacecraft or space habitats.”
Realizing the dream
In addition to working at Lockheed Martin Space after graduation, Pimentel has also been accepted into the mechanical engineering Ph.D. program at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, with plans to work on advanced manufacturing of ceramics.
“I’m well aware that it will be a difficult and challenging environment,” Pimentel said, but she knows it’s important to push herself. Her new career objectives include establishing herself as an aerospace materials and manufacturing subject matter expert and becoming a professor of practice.
She hopes that one day her contributions to the engineering field will advance cutting-edge technology, solve industry challenges, forefront the defense of our nation, propel space exploration, and inspire future generations of engineers.
“Continuous improvement and maximizing efficiency have always been, and will continue to be, at the heart of everything I do,” she said.