Two ASE Students Named 20 Twenties Winners by Aviation Week Network

August 18, 2022

Two students in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics have been recognized with Aviation Week Network’s 20 Twenties Awards Program for 2022. Catherine Dominic, a senior in aerospace engineering and Hailey Nichols, a graduate student in aerospace engineering with a space tech entrepreneurship specialization, are two of only twenty students across the globe to be selected for the award.

20 Twenties, established in 2013, selects its winners based on their academic performance, the value of their research or design project, and community involvement and aims to bring together these talented students to create a network comprised of technical experts who are building the industry.

This year’s applicant pool increased by 34%, making the selection process even more competitive. Winners will be honored at a luncheon during Aviation Week Network’s 65th Annual Laureate Awards and Dinner this November.

Learn more about Catherine and Hailey in this Q&A.

photo of catherine dominic in eer buildingCatherine Dominic

How will the research you are doing change the world?

I have always been interested in drone delivery and its potential to transform the entire transportation/delivery industry. Last year, I conducted market research on the feasibility of medical delivery drones to improve the health of residents within Syria due to the Syrian Civil War. I worked with Syrian medical non-profits and performed beneficiary interviews in order to thoroughly understand the war and its nuances. Through this project, I fostered an appetite for projects/experiences that are innovative, entrepreneurial, and people-driven. By pursuing an internship at Amazon Prime Air through the Brooke Owens Fellowship, I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed working with R&D, breakthrough composite technology, and test engineering. 

Over the past year and a half, I have been able to develop my technical and collaborative skills being a part of the Texas Rocket Engineering Lab. TREL aims to be the first collegiate lab to launch a liquid bi-propellant rocket to the Karman line. My first assignment was to work on launch pad hold downs and then I shifted to designing actuated composite fins to be manufactured in house. Last semester, I was the Director of Engineering and was able to learn about all the subsystem teams and the importance of their work to the overall mission to TREL. Being a director was a challenging experience that taught me that the balance between technical progress, communication, and collaboration is a hard one to achieve but something to always pursue.

How has your UT experience helped you receive this award?

My educational experience at UT has provided me with numerous opportunities to explore the intersection of aerospace, social entrepreneurship, and community engagement. Organizations such as the Social Entrepreneurship Learning Lab and TREL have trained me to understand the political, cultural, and social nuances of all the technological and social issues the world faces today. 

What else are you passionate about?

I am passionate about following the progress of People Centered STEM Education, an organization founded by a UT alum. Last March, I got to go on an experimental study abroad trip to Panama with five other UT students. During this trip, I was able to visit Panama Flying Labs and have the opportunity to learn from their students about different drone technologies and its impact in various regions of Panama. Here’s a video of the trip! 

What are your plans after you receive your degree?

I still have no idea where I will be after I graduate. I am continuing to explore various sectors of the aerospace industry and am taking the upcoming fall semester to pursue a propulsion internship with Relativity Space through the Zed Factor fellowship.

photo of hailey nichols in eer with locus lockHailey Nichols

How will your research and the company you have created change the world?

Locus Lock is an early-stage technology startup that delivers next generation GPS solutions to businesses around the globe. I founded this company in the Fall of 2021. The start-up is spinning out of the Radionavigation Lab directed by Dr. Todd Humphreys and is commercializing a software-defined Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver developed over many years in the laboratory. Locus Lock’s GNSS receiver can provide end users with precise heading and positioning that can be used for positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) applications. Our mission is to offer centimeter-accurate real-time positioning to ensure globally available, high integrity positioning at a fraction of the cost of current market GNSS solutions.

How has your UT experience helped you receive this award?

UT has been an incredible place for me to pursue my academic and career aspirations over these past two years in my Master’s program. I am grateful for my time in Radionavigation Lab as the mentorship and guidance from Dr. Humphreys has allowed me to grow as a student and engineer. In addition, the Texas Innovation Center has been extremely valuable in helping me navigate the tech commercialization process. Dr. Van Truskett and Ashley Jennings have provided me access to internal and external resources, introduced me to invaluable connections and have guided me through new experiences and processes that have ultimately pushed me to be a better engineer, businesswoman and thinker. I am immensely thankful to everyone who has supported me during my time at UT.

What else are you passionate about?

I am also passionate about environmental issues and helping fight climate crises, especially in my home state of Colorado. This became particularly important to me when 1,000 homes and structures in my neighborhood and surrounding areas burned down in December 2021. The wildfire was fueled by high winds and an unusually hot and dry winter. In the future, I would love to be able to partner with organizations and tech companies to help devise solutions to help mitigate climate events. Additionally, I am passionate about hiking in the mountains with my dog, friends and family.

What are your plans after you receive your degree?

After I graduate, I plan to develop and grow Locus Lock full-time.