As a child, mechanical engineer, Leslie Van Peteghem, often followed her father into his shop where she would sit and gaze as he constructed and repaired machines. She focused on his hands as they took apart the machine, the frustration in his face would never last long because she says “if he didn’t know how to do something he would find a way to learn about it.”
“He was my first teacher and inspired me to learn new things,” Van Peteghem said. “We would spend time together drafting, welding, and machining parts for whatever projects he dreamed up. I loved how he made science and math tangible.”
A quiet and reserved kid, Van Peteghem says she often strayed away from adventure, but with the motivation of both her father and mother she learned to try new things.
“They taught me that there is no substitute for hard work, and that every experience in life is an opportunity to learn and grow,” she said. “They made me believe that I could do anything I set my mind to if I was willing to put the work in to achieve it and they gave me the opportunities and tools to do so.”
Born and raised in Aromas California, Van Peteghem decided to attend Fresno State because, for her, she says Lyles College felt like home.
“The teachers and students were a perfect mix of intellectual spirit and practical application,” she explained. “It [Lyles College of Engineering] excelled at making math and science tangible,” similar to how her father taught her.
While at Fresno State, she participated in an internship with Edwards Air Force Base and Pelco through the Valley Industry Partnership (VIP) for Cooperative Education Program – a partnership between companies and the Lyles College to provide internship opportunities for qualified students of junior or senior level standing.
Upon graduation from Fresno State’s Lyles College in 2007, Van Peteghem went straight to work with Edwards as an Armament Engineer for the F-16 Fighter program.
“It was a career I sort of stumbled upon, but am very grateful I did.”
She then moved on to the B-52 and B-2 bomber programs where she worked for more than six-years in developmental testing with integrated weapon systems.
“I like that my job seems to grow with me,” she said. “I feel like I have been very fortunate with my career. When I first started I knew little to nothing about aircraft or the military, but I found it [the military] and the people who work in this environment fascinating.”
She also spent one-year as an operation and flight-test engineer supporting B-1, B-2, and B-52 test flights as a test conductor and as an on-aircraft engineer flying with the B-52, F-16, and C-12 aircrews. “Hands down the most exciting experiences of my life getting to fly on a military aircraft.” Today, she serves as a project manager where she manages cost and schedules Air Force projects.
When she’s not managing projects at Edwards, Van Peteghem has other important roles in her life, such as a mother and wife.
“My family has always been very supportive. My husband is a Fresno State engineering grad as well and is also an engineer at Edwards. Our daughter loves the airplanes and although she is too young to understand what we do, she still likes to point them out anytime she sees them flying.”
For those future engineers, Van Peteghem’s advice is to go after what they want in their career and in life.
“Engineering is such a broad discipline that if you learn the fundamentals there’s a variety of ways you can apply what you learn. It’s finding the application that you are passionate about that’s the trick.”