Brooke Owens fellowship winners talk representation in UT aerospace engineering

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Photo Credit: Mckenzie Bentley | Daily Texan Staff

For the second year in a row, a UT aerospace engineering student has won the Brooke Owens Fellowship, a highly competitive program that selects 36 women in engineering across the nation and matches them with paid internships at aerospace companies and organizations. 

“It was honestly such a surprise,” said Mykaela Dunn, 2019 recipient and aerospace senior. “Everything that I had been working towards led up to that moment, and it felt good to see that I was being recognized for my hard work.” 

Dunn will be spending this upcoming summer interning with Stealth Space Company, an aviation and aerospace engineering company. As a minority woman, Dunn said opportunities like this are important for exposing underrepresented women to the field.

“Being underrepresented in this particular field has been challenging, but there are people, such as the people who made this fellowship, who are doing things to help address this overlooked problem,” Dunn said.

 

According to data from Cockrell’s Women in Engineering Program, 19.7% of UT undergraduate aerospace engineering students were women, and of that, a little more than 20% were minority women, for the years 2015-2018.

“When I’m sitting in a classroom, I could be one of 15 girls in a class of 70,” Dunn said. “When I first got to UT, this was something I was very aware of. I felt like I didn’t fit in because not only did I not see many women, but there were very few minorities.”

Aerospace engineering junior Josefina Salazar, the 2018 recipient of the Brooke Owens Fellowship, said she also sees the disproportionate representation in her classes. 

“I pretty much know every girl in my class,” Salazar said. “We get really close and the community of women is nice, but it is evident that we are a small percentage, and I feel like it gets smaller the more you get into upper level classes.”

 

As a prospective student coordinator for the Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics department, Salazar helps engage female students interested in aerospace engineering early on by doing campus tours, sending out welcome packages to admitted women and exposing them to female staff and faculty on campus.

“We have been focused on putting on special, fun and interactive events with female students in order to retain women in (the department),” Salazar said. “We are also focused on getting prospective students to come in and accept their offer at UT to maintain a higher percentage of admitted incoming female students.”

Sarah Kitten, academic advising coordinator for the department, has been a mentor for both Dunn and Salazar, and said she believes she has a responsibility to make all students feel welcome and included.

“As the first line of support for students, advisers must have an open door and take on a proactive, advocating role for all students, particularly women of color,” Kitten said.

Salazar said when she met the other fellowship winners during her year, she realized the impact of women on the field of aerospace engineering.

“There is strength in numbers, and when all of us got together, it suddenly felt like there were a lot of us,” Salazar said. “Seeing this made me realize that I am supposed to be in this industry, and I am supposed to be in this group.”