In 2015, Donald “DJ” Arceneaux was in a tough spot and looking to increase his career potential. The oil and gas industry was in a downturn, and companies — including the company where he’d worked since 2007 — were laying off employees in the midst of plummeting oil prices.
“It was a tough time and I was looking for a change,” he says. “It didn’t make sense to continue on what seemed to be a career path that wasn’t advancing in correlation to my abilities and aspirations.”
So Arceneaux enrolled in UL Lafayette’s M.S. in Systems Technology program, a move that launched his career as an industrial engineer with one of the world’s leading aerospace companies, Lockheed Martin.
Change it up
It wasn’t the first time Arceneaux had changed his course.
Arceneaux initially chose to go into the workforce as a welder following high school but quickly realized he didn’t want to do that until retirement.
He signed a reserve contract with the United States Marine Corps, which would enable him to return home and attend college after basic training. But instead of returning home, he accepted a deployment to Afghanistan and was on active duty for nearly two years.
“(The Marines) pretty much defined everything I did after that,” Arceneaux says. “It teaches you a lot. You realize how good we have it here. You really want to take every opportunity to make something happen.”
Upon returning home from active duty, Arceneaux was able to start a new position in quality assurance with the same company he’d left before joining the Marines.
“At that time, they were offering to let me work 25-30 hours per week so I could still go to school,” he says. “My intention was just to gain more education and build up within the company.”
Arceneaux earned his bachelor’s degree and moved into a position within the procurement department. Then came more cutbacks in 2015 and 2016, and he was forced to take on multiple roles within the company to make up for reduced staff.
The UL Lafayette Department of Industrial Technology had recently launched its online master’s degree in systems technology — the only program of its kind in the south.
Upon hearing about the program, Arceneaux wasted no time in reaching out to former professors to learn more about the systems technology curriculum.
“It was a turning point in life where you could take the opportunity to better yourself or stay in a place that didn’t satisfy ambitions and be miserable,” says Arceneaux.
Take the Opportunity
The systems technology program was pivotal for Arceneaux, who says the program prepares students to tackle problems across industries.
“It’s very practical knowledge you can use every single day in any industry,” he says. “You really get a full grasp on industry as a whole, especially in manufacturing. You understand quality control, statistical methods, research — you go full-circle with the business.”
The opportunity to take courses in other disciplines, including business, also helps students become more well-rounded, says Arceneaux.
Meanwhile, the online format provides the opportunity to pursue an accredited degree for those who need to travel frequently for work or have taken jobs elsewhere.
“The program is geared toward working professionals who have families, jobs, and things of that nature,” Arceneaux said. “It gives you the opportunity to get a good education any way you want to get it. It gives you that flexibility.”
The online master’s program offers a project track or a thesis track; Arceneaux chose thesis, researching self-healing materials to develop an efficient method to extrude raw material into a filament that could then be used in 3D printing.
That research, he says, allowed him to test and prove his capacity for high-level learning and problem-solving.
“In my field, where I am and where I intend to go, I may never use the research I’ve done,” he says. “However, it gives you confidence and understanding that you can figure out anything. As long as you have the right people around you, the right materials to learn from, and the initiative to succeed, you can literally do anything.”
That, he says, is what makes a graduate degree worthwhile.
“It doesn’t matter what field you’re in, it proves you have the capability to apply critical thinking processes and actually learn and figure out whatever problem you’re trying to solve,” Arceneaux says. “I found it extremely valuable.”
While in graduate school, Arceneaux started exploring opportunities within the aerospace industry. The prospects, he says, were intimidating.
“I got two offers from aerospace companies in California before I graduated, but at that time, my wife and I had our son on the way… so that kind of made me shy away from moving away from home,” he says. “California was a little too far for me.”
Born and raised in Lafayette, Arceneaux said he didn’t know anything outside of Louisiana and what he’d experienced during his deployment in Afghanistan. But returning to the oil and gas industry immediately upon graduation reaffirmed his desire to pursue another path.
“I wanted to do something different, see other places, meet other people, learn different ways of doing things,” he says.
He then began exploring aerospace jobs closer to home where, “you’re close enough that if you need to be home, you’re only a few hours away.”
He was offered a position as an industrial engineer with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth, Texas. After a year, he was promoted to senior industrial engineer on the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft program.
Arceneaux says his job duties center heavily on data analytics and applying lean manufacturing principles, applying reasoning honed in grad school to new problems and processes.
He says students and graduates in industrial or systems technology should consider industries that might be outside their comfort zone, like aerospace or renewable energy.
“I seriously encourage anyone going into the industrial technology or systems technology programs to venture outside of your immediate region and see what’s out there,” he says. “I get to interact with people from all around the country with different educations, different backgrounds, and different viewpoints, which is always an adventure. You’d be surprised what you get to learn from them, and what they can learn from you and what you’ve studied during your time at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette.”
Gain the skills and business know-how to advance in industrial technology, engineering, and manufacturing fields. Apply today to the Master of Science in Systems Technology program.