Julia Weiss, graduate student and Morgan Serra, undergraduate senior, were recognized as exceptional up and coming leaders as members of Aviation Week’s 20 Twenties Class of 2022.
The award recognizes students in their twenties in either a bachelors or masters program who are distinguished in their efforts to advance the industry. The honorable recognition acknowledges that these students will continue to develop their careers successfully, pursuing innovative solutions to the problems we face in aerospace. Launched in 2013 with the purpose of celebrating worldwide STEM students on the basis of their academic performance, civic contributions and the value of their research or design project, the program brings together experts in the field to identify young people whose contributions to the industry, both on a practical and humanitarian level, are exceptional. Notably, this year the nomination pool was a 50/50 male to female nominee ratio, and produced an outcome of more female winners.
Julia Weiss first heard of aerospace during a 7th grade science class, where they were taught about the Apollo missions. But it wasn’t until arriving at U-M that she knew this would be her career path.
“Once at Michigan, I listened to stories about the development of the SR-71 Blackbird and I was amazed at how people could create such advanced technology. When choosing a career path, I knew aerospace engineering would constantly excite me, allow me to push technological boundaries, and provide a platform for me to make a global impact,” she wrote.
Weiss is currently working as a graduate student instructor for the newly incorporated Systems Engineering Leadership course, which focuses on model-based systems engineering, product development and project management. This course is revolutionizing undergraduate aerospace education, since these abilities very much needed in the real world are scarcely addressed at the undergraduate level. Weiss helped develop this course series over the last year and has worked on both the lecture material and the lab development and manuals.
Morgan Serra is a senior undergraduate student of Aerospace Engineering, and her passion for aerospace started with wishing she could fly.
“I have always been a math and science kid. And when posed with the question, “If you could have any superpower what would it be?”, my answer is always to fly. These two qualities drew me to aerospace engineering. I love engineering, and the added challenge of making huge craft airborne excites me,” she wrote.
This excitement has led Serra to be the Chief Engineer of the Michigan Sustainability Applications for Aerospace Vehicle Engineering (M-SAAVE), a project team within the university that works with Air Serv International, a humanitarian relief organization based out of Sub-Saharan Africa. Serra is currently in charge of the assembly and testing of uncrewed fixed-wing UAVs which will be used to deliver medical supplies and food to rural areas in Africa. She is also the VP of CARE, a campus organization dedicated to raising funds for engineering students facing financial difficulties. Serra is also currently working as an instructional aide for the same Systems Engineering Course as Weiss, all while holding a GPA of 3.93.
Today, Weiss and Serra have been awarded one of the most honorable awards a person their age in the industry can receive. For both of them, this award is proof that their hard work is being recognized.
“There are so many talented engineers in school and early careers, so to be recognized as one the top leaders and innovators among them is a huge accomplishment and honor. I have worked very hard to succeed academically, professionally, and personally. This award recognizes my achievements and the positive impact I have had on my community. It also reinforces that I am on the right path to reaching my goals,” Weiss wrote.
It makes Serra also feel hopeful about the future of aerospace.
“This award gives me the acknowledgment that all of my hard work is paying off. It also gives me hope for the future of the aerospace industry because alongside Julia and I are so many other talented women in the field that are changing the face of the aerospace industry.”
Naturally, such a prestigious recognition means a lot for their future career. They both believe it will help them achieve their ambitious career goals.
“Later in my career I hope to be leading aerospace vehicle programs and eventually hold a position where I am directly influencing the direction of the industry and the advancement of society. This award will open doors to opportunities that will put me on the path of achieving my career aspirations. It also will build my network of current and future industry leaders who will inspire me and push me to grow into the best engineer and leader I can,” Weiss comments.
“This award will help me achieve my goals because it has connected me with a network of talented, driven, and accomplished students. My goals are to love what I do, empower the next generation of students to pursue STEM careers, and to make the aerospace industry a more sustainable one,” Serra adds.
Serra’s and Weiss’ achievements are only made that much more incredible by the fact that the U-M aerospace department is only 14% female. As Weiss noted, women tend to question their abilities more often than men, which may lead to feeling impostor’s syndrome. Her advice was to surround yourself with a community that encourages you to pursue your passion even if there are setbacks. In fact, her way to overcome this bias was to use any stigma as to her capabilities because of her gender to push herself even more.
“I’m going to prove the men wrong if they think of me as someone who is only going to take notes for the team,” she said.
Similarly, Serra also made a note of how useful both the Society of Women Engineers and Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics were to her experience. And that although it may be very intimidating to walk into a lecture and be one of the few women there, you’re all at the same starting point now.
“You all made it into Michigan. You need to keep reminding yourself of that,” she said.