"I'm a better engineer today because of that hard work that Stanford classes had me perform."

When boarding an airplane, you trust your life to the engineers, pilots, and staff. Let's face it - it's pretty extraordinary that we can put thousands of pounds of machine up in the air, not to mention hundreds of passengers and their luggage. You'll want someone like Dilshani Jayasundara working to make aircraft safer the next time you are 30,000 feet above land.

Jayasundara is a structural engineer at The Boeing Company. She's also a Stanford student and passionate about her field. "Structures was my favorite subject in school, so there was this inner voice inside of me crying out to try out stress analysis," she says. "For the past 3 1/2 years I have been working as a Stress Analysis Engineer for the Fuselage group. I love every bit of it and am glad that I found what I like to do every day."

Stress analysis engineers analyze the airplane structure to confirm that it has adequate strength under static and dynamic loading conditions. Jayasundara has worked on both military and commercial planes. On one project her team was charged with repairing a military aircraft that had been badly damaged. On another, she worked with field service engineering on a military base investigating and resolving an anomaly. "This was an amazing experience," she says. "I witnessed aerial refueling, airdrops, formation flying and tactical descents during a practice flight with the air reserve pilots. Not many engineers get the chance to ride in a military airplane that they worked on."

Through all these projects, Jayasundara works hard to improve her skills, learn more, and constantly challenge herself. She furthers her education through on the job training, technical conferences, and Stanford classes. Since 2007, she's completed eight Stanford classes, all online at a distance, most through the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Recently Stanford awarded her the certificate of Advanced Structures and Failure Analysis as a result of completing three courses. This certificate was in fact created in direct response to Jayasundara's inquiries. "Structural engineering is a very important aspect of engineering," she says. "I'm glad that this certificate is now available at Stanford."

She likes that Stanford aero structural engineering classes are very hands on. Most include homework and practical projects. In Professor Fu-Kuo Chang's Analysis of Structures (AA 240B), students had to build a truss structure out of wood and send it in to be tested. In another class - Mechanics of Composites (AA256) - Jayasundara was paired with another student and charged with designing a composite specimen out of a prepreg piece. The Stanford faculty make the learning practical, and the projects enhance understanding of the course material. Whereas some professional development programs make homework optional, Jayasundara likes that Stanford requires the completion of projects. "No matter how challenging it is to find time to watch lectures and do homework assignments," she says, "I wanted to do it that way because deep within me I know that I learn more and would be a better engineer. I did not want a certificate for the sake of having one; I wanted to earn it."

Jayasundara has been able to apply her learning to Boeing's newest airplane - the 787. She spent several months at Boeing's Everett, WA site employing full scale static tests (FSST) correlation analysis on the 787 center wing box structures. These tests are critical in qualifying the aircraft for flight testing. "It's an amazing experience to be able to work on yet another Boeing product that will mark history as the world's first commercial composite airliner," she says. Her long term goal is to enroll in Stanford's online master's degree in aerospace engineering. "I just enjoy taking aerospace classes," she says. "It makes my brain think and helps me better understand the behavior of airplanes."