Steve Pisciotta '82
Dream once, dream twice
In simple terms, engineers are problem-solvers, which goes a long way toward explaining why Steve Pisciotta '82 is such a good engineer. After all, he had to solve more than his share of problems just to enter his chosen field.
Actually, engineering wasn't Pisciotta's first choice, and that was one of the problems. Growing up in Phoenix, Ariz., he said he dreamed of being a physical therapist, which led him to enroll at Pacific. Unfortunately, he found out his junior year that he couldn't get into the University's School of Physical Therapy because of a back injury.
"I was pretty devastated," he admitted, though he didn't stay down for long. "It's like a lot of things in life, where at first you're disappointed, but then you find out that you're going to be OK."
Pisciotta made the most of his remaining time at Pacific. He played handball - a sport his back would allow - and eventually graduated with a degree in biology. But he didn't know what he wanted to do, now that a career in physical therapy was impossible. He moved back to Phoenix, where he taught and coached at his old high school, but it wasn't the right career for him. "Both of my parents were teachers," he explained, "and I just didn't like the struggle. I couldn't see myself teaching forever."
The problem was clear enough, but the solution required some thought, which led him back to memories of Pacific and of one course in particular. "I decided one of the courses I enjoyed the most was a physics class with (Professor) Mary Fehrs," he said. "I was good at the subject, and I just remember really enjoying the material. If it wasn't for her and that class, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now."
Pisciotta said he decided not to go into physics directly because he didn't think there were many jobs in the field. But thoughts of a physics-related career led him to enter the electrical engineering master's degree program at Arizona State University (ASU).
At ASU, Pisciotta learned how fortunate he was to have studied at a college like Pacific. "One of my frustrations in getting my engineering degree was that so many of the teachers didn't teach well, and it wasn't their focus like it was at Pacific," he said. When he approached one professor, asking for help with a problem, Pisciotta said, "The professor looked at me and said, "You need to pick a different major.'"
Pisciotta ignored the professor's advice. He completed 40 additional credits just to get into the master's program, and then spent two more years getting his degree - all while starting a family that would soon grow to include three children. "It wasn't the traditional route, but it worked for me," he said.
While he hopes to start his own business soon, Pisciotta currently contracts with Honeywell, where he is working on the autopilot design for Boeing's new 787 aircraft. He has worked on many other intriguing projects, including a radar system for the military that can detect people walking three miles away - a helpful service at the border and in other sensitive areas. He also helped develop a digital hearing aid that helped people whose cochlear nerves had been cut to recover their hearing. "That was pretty amazing," he recalled. "When you're in the room with people, and they're hearing for the first time in 30 years, it's pretty emotional."
Pisciotta said he doesn't regret the challenges he faced or the circuitous route he took to become an engineer. And he said he certainly doesn't regret his decision to attend a liberal arts college. "I'm glad I went on the route I did," he said. "The psychology courses, the widespread knowledge I gained in history and literature, all of it opened my eyes. It definitely worked out well for me."