#BlackGirlMagic in STEM

We come to college to learn from books, but the biggest lessons we gain are from the people we cross paths with. As a woman of color at a predominantly white institution (and predominantly male), it can be challenging to find confidence in yourself. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many inspirational women of all ages and even more so, women of color that seek out not only to advance themselves, but the people around them as well.

For this post I will be highlighting one particular woman that has gone above and beyond at Embry-Riddle. Meet Naia!

Naia is a junior in Aerospace Engineering with a minor in Applied Mathematics. She is actively involved in National Society of Black Engineers, McNair Scholars, Kappa Mu Epsilon, Bible Study, and Dreams Soar Inc. With all of this on her plate, Naia is also the founder of Embry-Riddle Dancing Eagles. Naia is a Pathways intern at NASA Glenn Research Center working on a High Power Density CubeSat project. Although she began her Pathways internship last September, she is currently on her second cycle of the program. 

Astronaut and NASA Glenn Research Center Director, Janet Kavandi (left) and student Naia (right) being sworn in for her first day as a Pathways intern.

I’ve watched Naia from the moment she arrived thrive among her peers as an individual, but even the most successful people have fears about fitting in! She was excited to answer a few questions in hopes of relating to other women of color pursuing, or currently in STEM fields.

“As a woman of color on campus, I feel the biggest challenge I face is Atychiphobia – the fear of being wrong. Stereotypes of women of color in society are often negative.”

As a ‘super-minority,’ women of color often feel intimidated in their academic space. We are subjected to expectations on how we act, dress, and behave. These false expectations can place a lot of pressure on women of color.

“I never want to feel like an undeserved token student or the stereotypical uneducated black female,” Naia added.

Like Naia, we’ve faced this fear of our mistakes overpowering our academic strength. Like Naia, however, I have learned to overcome this. I, myself, was fortunate enough to meet Naia, and many women like her within the past few years, who strives beyond false expectations and imaginary boundaries and women that make their own connections and find motivation to persevere.

Organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals exist on our campus to allow minorities such as ourselves to flourish. Such organizations exist for other minority groups as well such as the Society for Hispanic Engineers. All of these clubs, and hundreds more are open to everyone.

Naia’s advice? “Remember to build a network of like-minded, motivated and positive individuals.”

Always remember your goal. How do you define success? Finding people that define success the same way you do will allow you to excel. Women of color have an opportunity to flourish academically and socially alongside women like Naia at Embry-Riddle. The university has an abundance of student organizations that can allow you to find the connections you need to persevere. We may have to work twice as hard for recognition, but we do it together.

We met Ms. Johnson at an annual career fair representing NASA and took it upon ourselves to network! We were then invited for a private tour of Kennedy Space Center. Don’t be afraid to make your own opportunities!(From left to right – Grace Johnson, Education and Youth Projects, Moriah Graham from Aeronautical Science, Danielle Rosales from Communication, and now alumna Cheyenne Nurse with a B.S. in Spaceflight Operations (formerly Commercial Space Operations)

Never forget that we’re more than a statistic, we’re breaking the glass ceiling. We’re pushing the boundaries for another generation. Naia and I encourage women of color to look past fears, concerns and intimidation to attend schools like Riddle to embrace who you are while achieving your dream. There are no limits.

⋆ Dani

Blasting off into Space Operations

Calvin Baker was one of 750 Embry-Riddle students to earn his diploma this May, and one of the first to earn the Commercial Space Operations bachelor’s. Now he’s off to Virgin Galactic to start his career in Quality and Regulatory Compliance for the organization. He’ll be working with SpaceShipTwo and potentially LauncherOne, his dream job with his dream company in his dream location.

Calvin's graduation cap included his two tassels, one for each degree, and was painted with a silhouette of SpaceShipTwo and his iris (in the style of the Virgin Galactic logo).

Calvin’s graduation cap included his two tassels, one for each degree, and was painted with a silhouette of SpaceShipTwo and his iris (in the style of the Virgin Galactic logo).

How did Calvin land his dream job? Hard work, dedication, making adjustments to meet his goals and participating in internships that provide valuable experience. And he landed not just one, but two internships while a student. We asked Calvin to tell us more about his experiences.

Can you provide some highlights about your internships?
I worked hard to acquire two internships during my time at Embry-Riddle. My first internship took place at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) in Washington, D.C. Interning at AST was by far the best job I have ever had. When I went into work, I was treated as a full-time employee, not an intern. That meant I wasn’t getting coffee; I was helping to evaluate licenses, experimental permits, and safety approvals. I attended weekly meetings about Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites and was even able to attend a quarterly meeting for SpaceX. I would greatly enjoy working at AST after graduation.

My second internship was also in Washington, D.C., this time at the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF). CSF is a trade organization, lobbying for the commercial space industry on Capitol Hill. I spent my summer writing congressional hearing reports and newsletters, graphic design for logos and promotional materials, and analyzing the NTSB findings of the October 2014 Virgin Galactic accident in regards to human factors and zero-fault tolerant systems.

Both internships taught me a lot about the space industry and the Washington, D.C., space culture.

Where are you from originally?
I am originally from Delton, Michigan.

What attracted you to Embry-Riddle?
I visited the Daytona Beach campus twice before beginning my freshman year in August 2010. The first time, I fell in love with the campus. The second time, I just had to see the campus again before attending.

Did you start off as a dual degree student?
As with many students, I started off as an Aerospace Engineer. I came to realize it wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I became a Communication major due to my experiences in comms-related courses. In my senior year, fall 2013, I added Commercial Space Operations (CSO) and extended my stay at Embry-Riddle.

Can you tell us a bit about your choices of Communication and CSO?
I chose the Embry-Riddle Communication degree program specifically because of a single faculty member: Professor M.B. McLatchey in the Humanities & Communication Department. I was a notoriously poor writer in high school, with one instance of me rewriting a paper four or five times to ultimately receive a C. However, after taking a couple courses with Professor McLatchey, something just clicked with me and I became a much better writer and communicator. I went on to take nearly every course she offered. This new found skill was compounded by many other great faculty members in that department such as Steve Master, Dr. Stephen Zeigler, Dr. Rachel Friedman, and Stephen Kampa. If you ever want to truly enjoy your coursework, get a degree in Communication from Embry-Riddle. The faculty is remarkable.

I was drawn to the CSO program because it meant a different way to get involved with space after leaving the Aerospace Engineering program. I was no longer chained to a career of marketing and public relations; I could use the skills gained through CSO, in addition to my communication skills, and enter into the space industry performing launch licensing and operations. I was attracted to CSO because it meant I didn’t have to merely talk about people doing great things in the space industry; I could be one of those people doing great things in the space industry.

Your capstone project Mapping Mars’ Moons (M3) addresses many advantages of resource extraction in space. What do you see as the greatest potential and what may be the greatest risk?

The greatest potential is finding resources with enough monetary value to eclipse the GDP (gross domestic product) of an entire country or even the entire world. In our project, we estimated that just one of the moons of Mars could house resources valued at over $10 quintillion, which is 10 with 18 zeroes behind it. This number was calculated based on the cost to launch the resources from Earth and get them to Martian orbit.

The greatest risk is finding out there are no resources at all or that it will cost infinitely more money to extract, refine, and make use of the resources.

We won’t know for sure until we take the risk to send a mission, manned or unmanned, to find out if all of our estimations are accurate.

What do you see as some of the more important careers that will be in demand in the commercial space industry?

Because the industry is just starting out, still designing all of their satellites/vehicles/etc., everyone wants engineers. However, I believe that will change as the commercial space industry matures. I believe it will reach a point when the commercial space industry mirrors the commercial aviation industry. Imagine when you can go online and reserve your ticket to go to space, set up a payload delivery to the Moon, or order some resources for your spacecraft after takeoff. As the commercial space industry matures, you need people to know how to operate in that environment. You won’t need engineers, you’ll need people who understand all aspects of the space industry, which is where I believe CSO will fit quite nicely.

Who are the most important companies and organizations in the commercial space industry?
There are companies taking part in many different areas of the industry: suborbital-trajectory tourism, reusable orbital launches, telecommunications, and so on. In my opinion, I love what Blue Origin and SpaceX are doing in regards to reusability; however, they are not competitors (yet) because Blue Origin is perfecting reusability for a suborbital vehicle and SpaceX is focusing on orbital launch reusability. In terms of tourism, Virgin Galactic just announced their new vehicle, dubbed Unity. Hopefully they’ll be flying paying customers by 2017. That would be a huge step forward for space tourism.

In other words, there are so many companies trying to make their impact in the commercial space industry, that it’s best to say who the leaders are in each area. I only touched on a few above, but it’s safe to say that I’m rooting for anyone who has a business model that includes space activity.

During your studies at Embry-Riddle, what types of extra-curricular activities did you participate in?
Nearly all of my extra-curricular activities included jobs I had, which I made sure would some how assist my professional career. My jobs included being a technical writer at the Florida NextGen Test Bed, the Communications Manager for the Embry-Riddle EcoCAR team, and now the Student Success Coordinator in the Applied Aviation Sciences Department in the College of Aviation. All of these jobs were related to the University and also taught me an enormous amount of valuable skills that complemented my coursework.

As far as student organizations go, I was momentarily in the surf club despite having no idea how to surf. I spent over two and a half years on the Embry-Riddle EcoCAR team, helping to promote the team to the campus, public, and industry. EcoCAR helped me hone all of my communication skills through weekly and monthly deliverables. Lastly, I enjoyed being a part of the Space Sciences, Policy, and Operations Club (SSPOC), which caters to students from the Commercial Space Operations degree program.

Calvin receiving his degrees from the Dean of the College of Aviation, Dr. Dan Macchiarella.

Calvin receiving his degrees from the Dean of the College of Aviation, Dr. Dan Macchiarella.



Countdown to Spring Break

Happy Saturday everyone! It has been a crazy few weeks on my side so I do apologize for not writing a blog in a bit. However, I am back…and so are the bikes! The 75th Bike Week is here. Starting yesterday, bikes from all around the country have come down to Daytona Beach for Bike Week 2016. Fun for them, but the traffic is a little bit of a bother.

On the Space side of things, SpaceX finally launched their Falcon 9 with SES-9 yesterday at 18:35:00 on the dot! The original days of launch, last Wednesday and Thursday, I was actually at Kennedy Space Center on restricted ground about 2.8-3.0 miles away from the launch pad. She was sure a beauty! It was really cold there. Even though the rocket never lit, it was still a nice experience seeing a rocket up close. SpaceX then rescheduled for this past Sunday but at less than T-5 seconds and counting, the engines ignited but did not have enough trust to the launch was aborted. After all that mumbo jumbo, she finally launched last night and it was beautiful. I was in Port Orange at that time but seeing the light in the sky fade into a nice parabola into a geotransfer orbit was the best part of my day. I did find out that the satellite deployed nominally. Congratulations for another successful launch and deployment SpaceX!

Keeping on the subject of Space, I am really starting to get involved as a NASA Solar System Ambassador! I have been getting updated on teleconferences up the wazoo, as well as, starting to plan my events for SSA. It is going really well. I will soon have a lot more time on my hands, another story for another time, so I can focus more on SSA. I am excited for the future!

I also registered for Fall classes on Friday. I am super excited to be taking

  • Physics II for Engineers
  • Statics
  • Business Statistics
  • Technical Report Writing
  • Spacecraft Payloads
  • Human Factors in Space

Yep, that is 18 credits but I am up for the challenge!

This semester is certainly going by fast! I have a calculus test on Tuesday so I have been studying all day for that one. I will be taking a break later tonight for Dinner and a Tribute to Bon Jovi concert for the Family Fun Days in Port Orange. Other than that I have a paper due next week but nothing super heavy. I am really excited for Spring Break! On Friday, Josh (boyfriend) and I are leaving for Chicago. We are staying there until the following Tuesday. On that same week, we are going on a cruise Thursday-Sunday for my parent’s 20th wedding anniversary. Super excited for that! I am going to try and not gain 200 pounds from the all you can eat buffet! I will be sure to get my workout on!

That is what has been happening and what is about to happen in the life of Skye right now! The Countdown to Spring Break is definitely on!

Have a great one!