2024 North Campus Deans’ MLK Spirit Award Winners

Three awards, four winners and a proud aerospace community

The Michigan Aerospace Department is exceptionally proud to announce numerous winners of the 2024 North Campus Deans’ MLK Spirit Award. Our department had multiple members of our community receive awards this year, in various categories. These awards are given to faculty, staff, students and student organizations in North Campus schools and colleges at the University of Michigan who have been recognized for their leadership and shared vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

We are honored to celebrate them and their commitment to social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion within the university as a whole, as they stand as role models who exemplify these attributes. Congratulations to all of the winners, and thank you for your dedication and hard work!

Activism, Awareness & Organization Award Recipients

Elijah Simpson is a current junior studying Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan and an active member of the aerospace community, continuously showing passion and dedication toward the industry. During his time at Michigan Aerospace, he has strived to create a sense of belonging for underrepresented students. Through organizing events such as the recent “Soaring with Equity” MLK event, a now annual event, as well as helping with various community mixer gatherings, he has helped provide platforms for dialogue and engagement within his community. He explains that these initiatives aim not only to celebrate diversity but to facilitate meaningful connections and discussions within the Department. 

“Receiving the Activism, Awareness & Organization Award is incredibly meaningful to me because it signifies the importance of fostering inclusive spaces within both the aerospace and broader Michigan Engineering community. With a profound passion for aerospace engineering and the creation of supportive environments for minority students, this award validates the dedication I’ve poured into intertwining these two passions,” commented Simpson. “I believe we can contribute to a more inclusive and supportive aerospace community where everyone feels valued and empowered to succeed. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have made these contributions, and I’m excited to continue working towards creating a more diverse and equitable environment within our department and beyond.”

Simpson is the current president of Black Students in Aerospace (BSA), a student organization committed to increasing the visibility of black people in the aerospace and aviation industry. The student organization was one of last year’s 2023 MLK Award winners in the student organization portion. BSA recently held the “Soaring with Equity: An Aero MLK Event,” hosted alongside Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics (WAA), Gender Minorities in Aerospace (GeMA), Latinos/Hispanics United in Aerospace (LUNA), and The Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA). The successful event offered an opportunity to engage in thoughtful community discussion led by a panel of diverse speakers.

The MARS Dialogue Series Team, led by Aerospace Engineering Professor Aaron Johnson, Engineering Education Research PhD student Elizabeth Strehl, Nuclear Engineering and Radiology Sciences (NERS) PhD student Mackenzie Warwick and NERS Professor Aditi Verma, were also awarded with the Activism, Awareness & Organization Award. These dialogues have provided a space to bring together undergraduate and graduate students, as well as staff, and faculty from aerospace and nuclear engineering for community-building and challenging conversations about the social impacts related to their fields. 

The “Macroethics—Addressing our Responsibility to Society” (M.A.R.S.) Dialogues, first held in the Winter 2023 semester, derived its acronym from “Macroethics — Aerospace’s Responsibility to Society,” to highlight the commitment to explore broader collective societal impacts. This shift provided them with the opportunity to collaboratively develop an understanding of the different ways to use aerospace and nuclear engineering to help people and advance social justice. These dialogues have given people a forum to discuss challenging sociotechnical issues like environmental justice, decolonization and the military-industrial complex that aren’t often brought up in engineering courses. 

“Our whole MARS Dialogue planning team is honored to be recognized with one of the MLK Spirit Awards. It’s a huge recognition of the organization and activism that our team and all of the attendees of MARS Dialogues have been doing over the past year,” commented Professor Johnson. “We’ve been working hard to create a space where undergraduate students, graduate students, staff, and faculty can come together to dialogue about challenging sociotechnical issues in engineering. We’ve had a lot of great dialogues about tough–but necessary–topics that are rarely touched on in engineering courses. It’s clear that a lot of members of our community want to have these conversations, and they’re seeking out a space where they can do so and build solidarity. Our MARS Dialogue team is very happy that we’ve been able to provide that space.”

Professor Johnson is an Assistant Professor within the Department of Aerospace Engineering at U-M and a Core Faculty member of the Engineering Education Research Program at the University. He mentors both undergraduate and graduate students in engineering education research, and also seeks to empower students towards positive changes in their undergraduate engineering programs. “The MLK Spirit Award is another great recognition by the University and the College of Engineering that these dialogues are important. We look forward to continuing these Dialogues in the future, and we welcome everyone to join!”

The MARS Dialogues will continue throughout the Winter 2024 semester with discussions centered around the heavily intertwined topics of the military-industrial complex, moral disengagement, and organizing. Visit the MARS Dialogue website for more information.

Read more about the other MARS Dialogue winners in this article from NERS.

Community Building & Impact Award Recipient

Jack (Boomer) Perry is currently a master’s student studying Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan after he completed his bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from U-M last year while being a part of the Sequential Undergraduate/Graduate Study (SUGS) program. Thanks to his dedicated work as the president of the Special Olympics College at U of M Club, Perry has helped build an inclusive community that fosters equal opportunities for those involved. 

“To me winning the award means that myself and our clubs work with inclusivity and developing equal opportunities in sports has been recognized and acknowledged as a worthy and valuable aspiration,” Perry explained. “My time spent with our Special Olympics athletes has been my favorite of all my college memories and I’m so happy for the opportunity to meet and work with the community of people with disabilities in Ann Arbor, with many of our athletes becoming some of my best friends I’ve made over the past five years.”

The Special Olympics College at U of M Club runs unified sports teams for students at U-M and local Ann Arbor residents with intellectual disabilities. Perry has been involved with the Special Olympics since highschool and has now been in the U-M club for four years.

Mentoring and Inspiration Award Recipient

Professor of Practice, George Halow, has been inspiring and mentoring the students since joining the Aerospace Department 5 years ago. With his vast array of industry experience and passion for encouraging students, he has become a driving force for fostering a sense of community and equity within his courses.

“This award came as really a pleasant surprise. One of my favorite all-time quotes is from Dr. Martin Luther King: ‘justice will never be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are affected.’  I try to live by this every day, and just do what I can,” stated Halow. “I don’t know which students nominated me, but I am grateful for the opportunity to mentor and teach all of them, and all of my other students. That is the ultimate reward for me, but winning an award as prestigious as an MLK Spirit Award is a wonderful affirmation of what we are trying to do here.”

Through his leadership and mentorship, Professor Halow’s courses cover various aspects of  the aerospace industry including systems engineering, leadership, culture, communication, diversity & representation, and careers in aerospace. He has inspired not only students within the Department, but has encouraged minority and underrepresented students to hold leadership positions in the MBSE ecosystem, where they in turn serve as role models for others who may consider a major in Aerospace. 

Other MLK Spirit Award recipients can be found here.

The annual awards are hosted by the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning; College of Engineering; Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design; and School of Music, Theatre & Dance, in collaboration with ArtsEngine and the Duderstadt Center as part of U-M’s MLK Symposium to honor and commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. King.