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The Rocket Girl

December 13, 2017

About me

Jen is an undergraduate student studying Mechanical Engineering and pursuing a minor in Business Administration. She served as the president of the Northeastern Chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) since she was a freshman, from April 2015 until June of 2017. She is currently serving as Vice President. In addition to AIAA Jen has served as a member of the MEIE Student Advisory Committee and is a member of the Human Services Organization (HSO) on campus. Her plans for the future center around engineering a better future, specifically working in industries of necessity rather than luxury. 

The Rocket Girl

I never knew just how much Northeastern’s Chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) would define my college experience. At my freshman orientation activities fair I spent a good chunk of my time hunting for the AIAA table. When I found it I added my email to their mailing list, something I probably did for a dozen or so clubs that day. I received emails from AIAA but couldn’t bring myself to go to the first few meetings because I was worried I’d be the only girl there. I don’t even remember which friend of mine finally convinced me to go but I guess I owe them everything. After one meeting, I was hooked. I’ve dedicated probably just as much time to this club as I have to my schoolwork, which sounds surprising but I know some people who give more time to the club than their classes.

AIAA in 2014 consisted of ten or so upperclassmen. Founded in 2013, the club was originally just a couple of students who wanted to get their minds working and hands building. Today, we have over 100 members. Even so, much of what we do for new members is the same. When I first joined I did the “Intro to Rocketry” Program, where I designed an original mid-power rocket with a team and we launched it in Amesbury, MA. We still offer this program every fall, except now instead of 20 students it’s 80 and there’s a lengthy wait list. Another difference is that the newer rockets don’t somersault through the air and crash into the ground like mine did. That’s an extremely important improvement.

Getting hands-on experience on Day 1 in a club is hard to find, which is one of the reasons I love AIAA so much. Every new member learns how to work with tools (safely) and starts designing at their first meeting. The fact that nobody knows anything about rocketry coming in makes the club so much more accessible. All of us are able to tell new members that we were just like them once, with zero knowledge but a passion to learn. I went from no knowledge about rockets to traveling with a team of 13 other students to Huntsville, Alabama to compete in NASA’s 2015 Student Launch Competition in April 2015. I went from new member to being elected president in the span of eight months.

As president of AIAA, I helped to make the club into the powerhouse it is today. We have a system where students propose projects, students vote on what projects should be pursued, and students lead the projects. Nothing has given me greater joy during my college career than helping to foster an environment where students can be creative and expand their engineering skill set. I have personally benefited immensely from being a member of this club. I’ve built personal rockets to pursue high-power rocketry certifications and doing so has bolstered my confidence as an engineer. Knowing that I’m capable of designing a rocket and executing its construction and launch flawlessly has made me feel like I have what it takes to be an engineer because, let’s face it, sometimes we all doubt ourselves a bit.

Recently a friend of mine mentioned my name to a fellow mechanical engineering student via text message. He responded, “Jen the rocket girl?” Now, there are definitely worse things to be known for so I’m happy to accept “the rocket girl” as my identifier. It’s funny though because despite having so much AIAA on my resume if you look at my work experience you’ll see I haven’t done a single aerospace co-op. It’s not what I want to do with my life, even though I still think it’s pretty amazing. You don’t have to want to be an aerospace engineer to be a member (or the president) of AIAA. The skills I’ve learned - cooperation, leadership, empathy, how to wire an electronics bay - are relevant to every facet of engineering. The confidence that comes from doing what you love and doing it well is the best feeling in the world. I know that without AIAA I wouldn’t be “the rocket girl” I am today. 

December 13, 2017 10:45 am