February 14, 2023

portrait of taj leeTaj D. Lee, a second-year aerospace engineering student in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, is one of thirty-one Black undergraduate students across the nation selected for the 2023 Patti Grace Smith Fellowship.

The non-profit program, created in 2020, aims to help bring diversity to the U.S. aerospace industry and offers a paid internship at a leading aerospace engineering firm, mentorship and a cash award. Students are carefully chosen for the fellowship after a four-round selection process by aerospace industry professionals, rising star early career employees and corporate employers. Learn more about Lee’s upcoming internship, his student experience as at UT Austin, and why he feels a diverse engineering community is important.

Why did you choose to study aerospace engineering at UT Austin?

I knew I wanted to study something related to flight after going to my first airshow in middle school. Since then, I've been motivated to contribute to the mission of building a future for humanity among the stars.

What internship will you be doing this summer?

I will be a propulsion engineering intern at Virgin Orbit in Long Beach, California.

How do you think this experience will help shape your future career?

While working at a commercial launch company, I’ll learn the fundamentals of engineering, work hands-on with hardware that will go to space, and build a network of other African-American engineers through the fellowship.

Tell us about your involvement with student organizations or hands-on engineering projects.

I'm thankful that I get to work with some incredible people at the Texas Rocket Engineering Lab, where we’re working to send a student-built liquid bipropellant rocket to space. I’m currently on the Structures team, where I help build and test composite parts for our rocket’s airframe.

photo of Taj Lee working on texas rocket engineering project

Why do you think it’s important to have a diverse engineering community?

Engineers solve problems. If we want to do things that haven’t been done before, and if we want to impact a diverse group of people, then we need to have a variety of thoughts and backgrounds working together. There is strength in our differences.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is a time to celebrate the pioneers that changed our society, culture, and played pivotal roles in American history. But I think it is equally important to look towards the future as we observe Black History Month. It’s up to us as young men and women to take responsibility for creating a culture that brings us closer together.