Meet Justin: College of Engineering Student Stories

Via University of Texas-Arlington

Justin Hawthorne isn’t your average engineering student.

The Phi Beta Sigma brother is animated and upbeat and talks easily about his experiences. A junior who is pursuing majors in both mechanical and aerospace engineering, he is a motivational speaker, runs a clothing drive in Dallas called Clothing the Homeless, and spent the 2017-18 academic year as a professional intern with engineering teams at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

On his first day, Hawthorne worked at Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom Park. His second day was spent with teammates on a project supporting the fireworks show “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Day three found him back at Magic Kingdom Park, this time looking out across its iconic Cinderella Castle. Such a variety of experiences was one of the things he enjoyed most about being a Cast Member at Disney.

Hawthorne worked on various mechanical and plumbing, and attractions maintenance projects at all four Walt Disney World theme parks, two water parks, and its retail, dining and entertainment district, Disney Springs. Half of his internship was spent at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where he helped to maintain the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith ride and the character droid BB-8. He says the one-on-one time with Disney engineers, including to the opportunity to test and adjust attractions coming to the new Toy Story Land, was instrumental as he listened and learned through hands-on experience.

“There was one job where a pipe needed to be fixed, but it’s hard to do when it’s underground. I suggested moving the pipe above ground and camouflaging it with landscaping, and the engineers adopted my suggestion. Another time I designed a new water backwash filtration system for an area in Epcot and I got to share the updated procedures with the maintenance team. It’s been phenomenal!

Hawthorne started his Disney work experience in the Disney College Program in Spring 2017 selling food at one of Epcot’s outdoor kiosks. While there, he learned about a paid engineering internship with the Disney Professional Internships Program. He was hired for the 2017 Fall term, and then extended for the 2018 Spring term.

“The Cast Member who hired me told me that what really made me stand out was my experience using SolidWorks and AutoCAD, which I learned at UTA from Dr. Raul Fernandez in MAE 1351,” he said.

Hawthorne’s motivation has driven much of his success, but he is quick to credit UTA for helping him along the way. He chose the University because it was affordable, close to his home in Dallas, and the College of Engineering has an excellent reputation.

“There’s a lot to learn to be an engineer, and I’m making the most of this opportunity. I can’t thank Carole Coleman in the College’s Internship and Co-op Office enough for helping me realize this dream, and the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department and the University for helping to make the process smooth so that I can come back and continue my studies without any problems,” he said.

Hawthorne plans to pursue an engineering career after graduation. But his first love – and what he jokingly says he’ll pursue after retirement – is motivational speaking. He gave his first speech in front of 4th and 5th grade STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) students at The Meadows Elementary School in DeSoto, where his mother is the principal. He has been speaking in front of audiences ever since. He returns to his alma mater, Dallas’ Bishop Dunne Catholic School, occasionally to speak to students and provide inspiration, and recently gave one of the biggest speeches of his life, as an alumnus addressing attendees of the 2017 Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Conference at Walt Disney World Resort last November and again this past June.

View Justin’s speech

“I’ll do engineering for the money and because I love it, but when I retire, I’ll be a motivational speaker because I love that even more,” he laughed.

The bottom line for Hawthorne is that he wants to make a difference in others’ lives. He is active in his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, Inc., which he joined in 2016, and does philanthropic activities with his brothers. He created and implemented two clothing drives through his church, which he calls Clothing the Homeless and Clothing the Homeless 2.0. He collected donations of good quality, used clothing then washed, folded and sorted it himself before heading out with a team of volunteers to distribute the clothes to homeless men and women in Dallas.

“We go out on the street and guys come up and think we’re giving out food, but when we give them clothes, they’re really grateful. I’ve had big men start to cry because they’re so appreciative. It’s really special, and there will be a Clothing the Homeless 3.0 when I get back to campus,” he said. “Rev. Alexander at Community Missionary Baptist Church has been really supportive and a humongous help in making the events a success.”

Hawthorne acknowledges the good things that have happened to him, and he tries to pay them forward.

To that end, he encouraged a friend to apply for a Disney Professional Internships role in Spring 2018. Subsequently, she was hired.

“I want to make magic for people who’ve been important in my life. The first time I saw Disney fireworks was as a little kid. They kicked in my drive to change someone’s life, and I hope other kids who see them today will be as inspired as I was.”