At Sierra Space, we are building a platform in space to benefit life on Earth. We aim to dream, innovate, inspire and empower the next generation – including the future generation of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
This International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) – celebrated globally on June 23 – Sierra Space is proud to stand alongside the Women’s Engineering Society to recognize women in the engineering field and encourage the next generation of women to explore careers in engineering. This year’s theme, Imagine the Future, focuses on the women inventors and innovators who are making strides in engineering and inspiring the next generation.
We asked three of our stellar team members about their path to engineering and the advice they would offer to future engineers. Here’s what they had to say:
Kursten O’Neill, Vice President, Dream Chaser Crew Vehicle
Q: How did you get into engineering?
A: I used to hate math, actually. It was not until I had a teacher in high school that saw my potential and challenged me to learn more. Between my junior year into senior year, I enrolled in summer school to take a Calculus course to get ahead. It was with that support and encouragement that everything changed, and I learned to really love math. At the same time, I was taking physics classes, and we started performing applied math to physics experiments. It was then that everything clicked, and I realized my passion for math could be applied to technology to make a real difference, and that brought me into engineering. This led me to attending the Rochester Institute of Technology studying mechanical engineering.
Q: Can you describe your job in 60 seconds?
A: No day here is the same, ever. Managing a human spaceflight program for Dream Chaser has been an adventure. The Dream Chaser crew program goes back to the very roots of the program and will follow the cargo vehicle, with 10+ years of heritage to lean on. Technology continues to advance rapidly in human spaceflight, so every day is a different version of trying to solve how to get to space – to safely transport humans to and from LEO. I have a fantastic team I get to work with every day – they are some of the smartest people I’ve worked with in my career.
Q: What advice would you give the next generation of women engineers?
A: You are your own top advocate. As you trail blaze for yourself throughout school and your career, you will find people along the way who will help you and empower you and open doors, but always remember that you are your own advocate. This is easier said than done, of course and it comes with a lot of self-reflection and hard work, but when you get there, it’s so rewarding.
Gracie Peters, Structural Engineer
Q: What attracted you to a career in engineering?
A: Ever since I was a little kid, I was interested in understanding how things worked, so I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an engineer. Engineers are often at the forefront of new ideas and technology, and I wanted to be part of something that could make a difference. To me, there was really no question about what field would help me achieve that goal.
Q: What do you like most about work in this field?
A: I enjoy working in a field that is consistently pushing the envelope of what is possible. It is exciting to work on ideas that have never been explored before and to have the freedom to be creative in finding new, innovative ways to solve difficult problems. The people in this industry are passionate about what they do, which makes coming to work every day enjoyable. We all have a common goal and are willing to fight hard to get there.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring engineer?
A: Remember that your biggest asset is the effort that you put into your work. The people that I see making the largest impact are the ones who are invested in what they do and are willing to work hard to make things happen – they are the ones who go find the answers rather than look to others to provide them. Also, remember to keep your dreams and expectations high and never stop advocating for yourself. This is the best way to continually push your own development and advancement. Lastly, continue to learn new things and don’t let your job become easy because that is when you know you aren’t living up to your own potential.
Sadie Holbert, Systems Engineer
Q: What was your path to becoming an engineer?
A: I have always been interested in astronomy and space exploration but never considered becoming an engineer. When I was in high school, I had an amazing physics teacher (also a career engineer) who said to me one day, “you’d make a great engineer.” I was thinking about becoming a doctor and he recommended an engineering undergrad as a potential path to that goal. I enrolled in the engineering program at my university and decided to pursue Aeronautics and Astronautics because it was what I was most interested in. I had so much fun learning orbital mechanics that I decided to fully abandon the doctor thing. Now that I am working as an engineer, my mission is to create platforms for scientists to study Earth and space as well as further human exploration. Working on Dream Chaser is a way to pursue that goal because we will ferry experiments to the ISS and Orbital Reef, and we’re working on expanding the human footprint in space!
Q: What does your day-to-day entail?
A: One of my favorite things about my job is that my day-to-day activities vary widely. Some days I’m in meetings discussing best practices or operations concepts, other days I’m working on analysis for Dream Chaser’s first mission. My favorite days are when I’m preparing for and executing mission simulations where flight controllers monitor real time data and respond to different failure scenarios.
Q: What words of wisdom do you have for future engineers?
A: I’ll pass along a piece of advice that was given to me, unrelated to engineering, but it absolutely factored into my path to become an engineer. “There are people who get things right the first time, and there are people who have to try again to succeed. The latter is often more rewarding.” I think the moral of the story is not to underestimate persistence and determination. I may have repeated a math class (or two) in college, but it all led to where I am today.
Interested in exploring careers at Sierra Space? Click here to learn more.