Aerospace engineer shoots for the stars with fellowship

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Photo Credit: Amna Ijaz | Daily Texan Staff

From the moment Mykaela Dunn sat in the Apollo 17 cockpit at Space Center Houston when she was six years old, she knew she wanted to be an astronaut. As her love for tinkering grew, she turned her sights to aerospace engineering. 

In January, Dunn, an aerospace engineering senior, was named one of 38 undergraduate women to receive the Brooke Owens Fellowship, which promotes women and diversity in aerospace by matching fellows with leading aviation and space companies.

“This just feels like a win,” Dunn said. “Just the fact that I can finally get my foot in the door has really helped me. I’ve never seen this many girls in STEM, and just seeing that many girls in aerospace … there’s just no words to describe it. It’s amazing.” 

Hundreds of students from around the world applied for the fellowship. Dunn said she almost did not apply for the fellowship because she came from a small town and did not have a strong science foundation or a role model to look up to. 

“I think it is important to have something there for women because it’s really intimidating walking into a classroom and seeing 100 white men,” Dunn said. “I didn’t see any women of color in engineering growing up, so I think (the fellowship) is doing a really good job at (fixing) that.”

 

Dunn said one of her biggest supporters has been her academic adviser, Sarah Kitten. Kitten has worked with Dunn since 2015, when Dunn was a prospective student, and said she has continued to watch Dunn grow through the following semesters.

“From the first day I met her, she was over the moon — no pun intended ­— excited about pursuing an aerospace engineering degree here at UT-Austin,” Kitten said in an email. “I think if I were to describe Mykaela’s journey thus far, it would be one of perseverance and resilience.”

Dunn said she also wants to be the mentor she never had. Thus, she has been a peer adviser in the department of aerospace engineering for the past three years. 

“I would like to provide kids with something to look at and say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it,’” Dunn said. “Having a role model to look up to could really help kids out. Or, at least would really have helped me out.”

While Dunn said she might not have had an engineering role model, she looks up to both of her parents because they came from poverty and have worked hard to provide her with a good life.

“This is something that she has dreamt of about her entire life,” Dunn’s father Charles Dunn said. “It’s like a dream that is becoming true, and we are so proud of her.”

In June, Dunn will head to Alameda, California, to start her internship at Stealth Space Company. Dunn said she knows it will be hard, but she knows she is capable. 

“It’s going to be an interesting experience,” Dunn said. “I know I am destined for greatness no matter what I do, so as long as I keep that in mind, I know I can do it.”