Josefina and Mykaela photo
Josefina Salazar (left) and Mykaela Dunn (right) have both received the Brooke Owens Fellowship, a selective program that matches women with paid internships at aerospace and aviation companies and organizations.

For two consecutive years, a Cockrell School of Engineering aerospace engineering student has been selected to receive a Brooke Owens Fellowship—Josefina Salazar in 2018 and Mykaela Dunn in 2019. The highly competitive program selects only 36 extraordinary women per year and matches them with paid internships at leading aviation and space companies and organizations where they are mentored by senior level executives. We sat down with both women to discuss their experiences as Brooke-Owens fellowship recipients, better known as “Brookies.”

Why did you decide to pursue the field of aerospace engineering?

MD: When I was six or seven, I went to the NASA space center in Houston and sat in the Apollo cockpit and told my parents that I wanted to be an astronaut, and they said “ok.” I’ve done a lot of research since that day and realized that I like to take things apart, which helped me realize that I should probably go into something that involves building things. Knowing this, I looked into structure and propulsion and found aerospace engineering.

JS: I knew I wanted to do something science related ever since I was a kid. When I discovered aerospace engineering, I thought it was the perfect mix of my love of space science and engineering. I've always known I wanted to do something that changed the world, and space exploration is the future that I want to contribute to, so aerospace engineering was the right choice to help me reach my goals.

Tell us a little about the Brooke-Owens Fellowship.

MD: Brooke-Owens is a really purpose-driven foundation fueled by a passion for bringing diversity and women into STEM fields, specifically aerospace engineering. It was named after Dawn Brooke Owens, a pioneer woman pilot. It essentially serves as an internship program—recipients are selected for an internship with an aerospace corporation, which helps students get their foot in the door within the industry.

JS: The Brooke Owens Fellowship is a network of highly ambitious women and non-binary people that want to contribute to the aerospace world in a meaningful way. Each year there is a selection process consisting of various interviews both with the founders and host companies. After going through the rounds, you are matched with a host company and with a mentor.

What internship are you/were you involved with as a Brookie?

MD: Within my internship at Stealth Space, I want to focus on the propulsion aspect to see which side of it I'm more interested in. It’s a hands-on experience so it’ll help me decide between the design, fabrication and testing sides of propulsion. I’m leaning more towards the testing side because why not fire rocket engines—that’s really cool. But I know that the designing side would be great as well.

JS: I was awarded my fellowship in 2018 where I worked at Planet Labs, Inc. I worked on the electrical engineering team, during which I integrated an OTS camera module into the next generation of Earth-imaging satellites. Since the internship experience, I have already taken immense steps thanks to the fellowship. Last summer the Brookies had a Grand Challenge that pushed me towards my new passion: business. I started a small business with another Brookie, Amani Garvin, related to orbital debris and am excited to keep pursuing our ideas. I am also helping organize this year's Grand Challenge for the Class of 2019, and I am so excited to meet all the new Brookies this summer!

How has this award made a difference in your career as a student? Future opportunities?

MD: So far, I have gained experience with a variety of networking, and I really hope that moving forward it helps me with my classes in the future. I’ve also been receiving homework from the lead propulsion engineer at Stealth Space in preparation for my internship. And I’m already starting to learn different things like other coding languages. It’s all very eye-opening.

JS: I am a lot more confident in my skills thanks to the fellowship, and so I have been able to be more proactive in achieving my goals. The experience taught me that it is never too early to start making a difference, and I am so excited to keep pursuing bigger goals. Not only that, but my network in the aerospace industry has also immensely increased and I've been able to talk with a lot of leaders in the industry.

How have student organizations you’ve participated in helped you to achieve this award?

MD: I would definitely say that the Longhorn Rocketry Association (LRA) has been a major contributor. The hands-on part of fabricating and launching rockets has taught me so many technical skills that I'm going to need in the field. I’ve also been involved with other organizations that have helped me out a lot, such as AIAA, NSBE and other leadership groups that helped me to prepare.

JS: I've been involved with the Women in Aerospace for Leadership and Development (WIALD) since my first day in college, and I would not be where I am without it. I love the WIALD community, and now that I am the president I strive to keep that community going and be a support system to women in aerospace. I am also a part of the Texas Spacecraft Laboratory which provides me with hands-on and research experience that set me apart from many applicants.

If you had to thank one person for all the achievements you’ve accomplished, who would it be and why?

MD: It’s a little difficult to say because my parents have always been my support system but if I had to pick someone at UT it would be Sarah Kitten, my academic advisor. She got to know me before I even got to campus. She's been my backbone—she helps me sort everything out and she has always provided support, even when I didn’t ask for it because she could tell I needed it.

JS: I would have to say my mom and dad, because they gave up everything for me to be where I am. They've sacrificed so much in their lives and I work hard every day so that I can make them proud. They are my number one support system and I could never thank them enough for everything.