Today I thought I would share how I become an actual rocket scientist! No pictures in this one, just genuine, straight-from-the-heart facts. From the first thoughts in my head as a little girl, to the decision to go to college to study aerospace engineering, I want to share with you a little glimpse into the path toward my career! This post would be way too lengthy if I went into every detail, but I will be sharing little snippets as time goes on to complete the story!
It all started when I was four years old. We lived in Florida at the time, and I was fortunate to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor launch on December 5, 2001. Though we lived on the other side of the state from Cape Canaveral where they used to launch Shuttles from, we could still see the trail of the rocket fuel burning as the Shuttle launched into what was then for me a vast unknown. I was absolutely enthralled, and I told my parents I wanted to be an astronaut.
My parents did an amazing job fostering my love for outer space, but unfortunately, my dreams began to slip quietly into the back of my mind as I grew older because kids teased me for being smart and having an interest in math and science. You know, when you’re 8, “nerd” is a bad word. I don’t think I regret this part of my life, because during this time I was able to dance, ski, and play trumpet in national championships (more on all of that to come in later posts). But it affected a huge part of my childhood, and I hope that, as time goes on, this stigma that “girls can’t do math and science” is eradicated.
I went to college to pursue “some sort of math” and music. I had no idea what kind of math, but I knew I was good at math, it stimulated my brain, and it helped a lot of people every day. When I was touring schools, I always toured the math department, but never felt like it was for me. It wasn’t until we toured Tennessee that my dad suggested we tour the engineering college after I left a meeting with the math department extremely discouraged. I was reluctant at first, but I finally gave in.
We toured the College of Engineering and my eyes were wide with excitement the entire time. This was exactly the kind of math I wanted to be doing – something that wasn’t too theoretical and helped people in a very tangible way EVERY. DAY. When I was asked what type of engineering I was interested in, I immediately said aerospace engineering. I had no fear because the Dean of the College of Engineering had just spent 30 minutes telling me about all the programs for women in engineering that Tennessee had to offer.
So that’s how I ended up choosing the University of Tennessee to study aerospace engineering. While in school, I had experience in hypersonics research (speeds above Mach 5), wind tunnel design, energetic nanomaterials for use in propellants, commercial jet engine performance, and manned space exploration. I knew I always wanted to work in the space sector rather than the aero side of aerospace. I loved planes, but it was also space exploration that hooked me (I literally cried when they discontinued the Space Shuttle program). Thankfully, I had the opportunity to finally work in space exploration the summer before my senior year of college, and I knew that was what I wanted to be a part of.
So here’s to all the little girls who are told by society that they can’t be a scientist, let alone a rocket scientist. Let’s fight this stigma, break down barriers, and teach our little ones to do whatever they want to do!