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Loyola Alumni Team Up to Explore Aerospace Boundaries

Carlo Pizzano

In the vast expanse of the aerospace world, MACH-20, a company co-founded by Loyola graduates, is a testament to Loyola’s enduring commitment to producing alumni who challenge the status quo. 

Jesse and Danielle Margiotta, partners and graduates of Loyola, ‘03 and ‘04 respectively, teamed up with Dick and Lilee Cheng, also partners and graduates of Oregon University ’01 and UCLA ‘05, respectively. The two couples founded MACH-20 in 2019 to lead an advanced technology consulting firm. 

The company’s first and main focus was providing objective technical advice to government defense agencies on hypersonic technology, a brute combination of aerospace and material science. Their team consists of talented individuals with vast knowledge of developing and applying these technologies. 

What is hypersonic technology, you may ask? Remember the pulse-quickening scene in “Top Gun 2”, where Maverick defies current human engineering capabilities? Well, the fictional jet and Wild West pilot reached over 7,000 miles per hour, surpassing Mach 10 speed.  

The Mach number is often used in aerodynamics and aviation to describe how fast an aircraft is traveling relative to the speed of sound in the air through which it’s flying. The MACH-20 team was founded with a focus on hypersonic technology. Hypersonic generally refers to velocities that are five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) or greater.  

The company consults with government research programs on hypersonic technologies. One such program is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). MACH-20 partnered with DARPA and other research agencies to challenge the boundaries of innovation. Their objective is to build a strategic advantage for the American fighting force through technological advancements, particularly in hypersonics. 

In a Greyhound interview, Jesse spoke very passionately about his love for working with DARPA.

“It is a place where you’re encouraged to have wild ideas and given the instruments to go and execute them. We get to play a small role there and we love every second of it,” he said. 

The Loyola graduates and their business partners share a profound respect for the Department of Defense. When Dick speaks of DARPA’s pioneering spirit, he cannot help but be patriotic about his own journey. 

“Helping the DOD and staying at the forefront of technology means a lot to me because of everything that the United States has given me and my family, being immigrants here from Hong Kong and just being able to live in a democratic society means a lot to me,” he said. “And so whatever I can contribute to reinforcing that study, making sure that we can continue to live with that freedom is certainly something that I personally think about every day.” 

His narrative is more than just about innovation—it’s a love letter to a nation that welcomed him, an immigrant, with open arms. 

Even in the face of adversity and challenges through COVID-19, the company maintained an innovative approach to business. Dick’s focus on a “pure objective technical assessment” served as the company’s guiding light. MACH-20’s adaptability in the face of technological shifts served as both a business strategy and a core philosophy.

“I always like to tell our guys that we’re looking for folks, not so much that are an inch wide and a mile deep,” Dick said. “We’re looking more so for folks that are a mile wide and an inch deep, but with a really big shovel.”

An early onboarded employee example, Dean Polk, shifted his technical focus from high-temperature structures to microelectronics. It was the kind of change the partners welcomed. 

“It’s about trusting yourself and your ability to do the right thing and to get the right work done…And [Dean] is very pleased with his decision…he actually probably can speak the language now and can go toe to toe with domain experts,” Jesse said. 

 Amidst this whirlwind of technological effort lies the undeniable influence of Loyola University Maryland. Jesse and Danielle said Loyola’s guiding light has left an indelible mark on them. 

 “To echo Jesse with being at a liberal arts school, I feel like it was so important in shaping me as a person because it helped me get out of that technical side of my brain and exercise that creativity,” Danielle said. 

 Being STEM majors brought the Loyola couple together as life partners, and also helped shape their worldview. It’s no coincidence that the essence of Loyola’s motto–“Strong truths well lived”–resonates with them as they continue working to push boundaries in MACH-20’s endeavors.

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