Paying it forward: Engineer training to support future engineers

Inspired by his father and mentors, U.S. Air Force major and Penn State engineering alum Salvador Ordorica will earn doctorate to educate engineering students


Tessa M. Pick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Salvador Ordorica, a Penn State architectural engineering alumnus and major in the United States Air Force, spent his childhood weekends differently than most kids.

“My father would work the midnight shift as an air traffic controller in the Air Force, and I would go with him,” Ordorica said. “He would give me all the flight plans for the planes coming in, and I would watch from the tower. Seeing all the aircraft landing, seeing my father in his uniform, the way he carried himself, I knew the Air Force was what I wanted to be a part of.”

Ordorica was born in Sacramento, California, and grew up in Lincoln, California. He was two years old when his father joined the Air Force. He and his family traveled the world as his father was stationed in different locations, living in England, Germany and Turkey. Ordorica’s father obtained a bachelor’s degree while in the Air Force and two master’s degrees after retiring.

“Observing my father throughout his 23-year Air Force career and watching him strive to always learn more, motivated me to get a college education,” Ordorica said.

Ordorica earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from California State University in May 2010 and joined the Air Force one month later. He earned his master’s degree in architectural engineering from Penn State in 2018. Now, he is returning to Penn State to begin a doctoral degree program in architectural engineering, with an anticipated completion date in May 2024.

While obtaining his master’s degree, Ordorica was advised by Greg Pavlak, assistant professor of architectural engineering. Ordorica said he considers Pavlak an influential part of his educational journey, and he plans to work with Pavlak again when he returns to earn his doctoral degree.

“Salvador is dedicated and disciplined, while exuding humility,” Pavlak said. “It was a gift to be able to work with him during his master’s degree program at Penn State. I am excited to see Salvador take this next step in his career. When he contacted me about the possibility of coming back for his doctoral degree, the answer was clear — of course, we would love to have him back at Penn State. Salvador has numerous qualities that will make him an excellent mentor to future students. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with him again as he pursues his doctorate.”

Ordorica plans to continue his master’s degree work, which was focused on building mechanical systems, specifically integrating renewable energy, like solar power, with conventional means of generating energy.

“As a civil engineer officer, it is my responsibility to ensure the Air Force buildings and structures are not only maintained but remain combat-ready,” Ordorica said. “The installations that we are responsible for around the world are critical to our mission as they are the Air Force’s power projection platform. We are responsible for coming up with and implementing solutions to complex problems, engineers keep our facilities and utilities running effectively. Being an engineer has taught me to think on my feet, constantly analyze problems and innovatively create solutions.”

Since joining the Air Force, Ordorica has served as the deputy chief of engineering, a project manager and a project programmer of the 319th Civil Engineering Squadron at the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. In 2014, Ordorica was deployed to Ethiopia to serve as the director of operations for Detachment 1 under the 409th Air Expeditionary Group.

“I knew I wanted to go into engineering because I always loved taking things apart and seeing how they worked,” Ordorica said. “However, math was not one my strengths when I was younger, but I did really enjoy the subject.”

According to Ordorica, it was an Air Force B52 pilot that broadened his understanding of math concepts and ultimately helped him decide to pursue engineering.

Currently, Ordorica teaches classes focused on mechanical system designs at the Air Force Institute of Technology, but to become a full faculty member at the institute, he needs to complete his doctorate.

“I want to help other students in the same ways my mentors have helped me,” Ordorica said. “There is so much more to learn about mechanical systems, and I want to use my experience from earning my doctorate to create new curriculum for students.”

Ordorica, his wife of 11 years and three children moved to State College this month, as Ordorica prepares to begin his first semester as a doctoral student.

“Returning to Penn State for my doctorate was a no brainer for me,” he said. “It’s a renowned school with a robust engineering program and great professors who helped me through my master’s program.”


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College of Engineering Media Relations

headshot of a man wearing a u s air force uniform with american flag in the background

Salvador Ordorica joined the United States Air Force in 2010 and earned his master's degree in architectural engineering from Penn State in 2018. Now, he is returning to Penn State to begin a doctoral degree program in architectural engineering, with an anticipated completion date in May 2024. IMAGE: PROVIDED BY SALVADOR ORDORICA