Alumnus gives as his career takes flight

Since completing his undergraduate and graduate studies at VCU, Jose Ortiz (B.S.’08/H&S; M.S.’10/Eng) has worked as an avionics lead engineer on several record-breaking unmanned aircraft. Majoring in physics in the College of Humanities and Sciences as well as computer and electrical engineering in the College of Engineering provided Ortiz with a solid foundation for avionics systems design as well as leadership and collaboration skills that he uses every day.

Now on a career path that is reaching great heights, Ortiz remains committed to the university that helped set the stage for his success. He recently honored his VCU experience and his mentors, VCU professors Alison Baski, Ph.D. and Robert Klenke, Ph.D., with generous gifts to the Department of Physics and the College of Engineering during the Make It Real Campaign for VCU.

“I owe a lot of gratitude to VCU and in particular to these two professors directly,” Ortiz says. “I want to make sure I give back as much as I am able to so that I may help others succeed.”

Ortiz began his career developing unmanned aircraft technologies in Manassas, Virginia, where he made his mark at Aurora Flight Sciences with his work on Orion, an unmanned aircraft commissioned by the U.S. military for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. One of his proudest achievements was realized when the Orion aircraft set a new certified world flight record for remotely controlled aircraft in December of 2014 with an 80-hour, 2-minute and 52-second flight time.

Ortiz currently serves as the Avionics Technical Lead for Facebook’s Aquila project. Aquila is a high-altitude, solar-powered aircraft that aims to stay in flight for up to 90 days at a time and beam broadband coverage to a 60-mile-wide area on the ground. In this role, Ortiz is at the forefront of connecting remote regions of the world with affordable internet access.

A version of this story previously appeared on the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences website.

To learn more about the College of Humanities and Sciences, contact Bethanie Constant, senior director of development, at (804) 828-4543 or