Maria Reitz Named Recipient of Aviation Week Network’s 20 Twenties class of 2024

Aerospace Engineering student recognized for individual excellence and significant impact towards the future of aviation

Aerospace Engineering student Maria Reitz has taken her academic career to new heights in 2024 after being one of four University of Michigan students to have been recognized as Aviation Week Network’s 20 Twenties class of 2024 recipients. She is one of 20 students from around the world who were selected for the 20 Twenties honor. This award recognizes individuals who are on track to be leaders of the aerospace, aviation and defense industries. Nominees are evaluated on their academic performance, civic contributions, personal challenges and the value of their research.

This year, each winner was invited to a luncheon in their honor on March 14, 2024 at The National Press Club in Washington, DC as well as invited to attend Aviation Week Network’s 66th Annual Laureate Awards gala at the National Building Museum. Each student had the opportunity to network with other winners from around the world, all pursuing STEM degrees at the university level.

Maria Reitz was born in Lapeer, Michigan in a multicultural, multinational household which provided her the opportunity to fly countless times between Michigan and Michoacán, Mexico to visit family. It was these flights at a young age which sparked an interest in aviation and drove her to join the Michigan Aerospace Engineering Department to pursue an education in sustainable aviation.

“My first plane flight was when I was only six months old! As I grew older, however, I began to realize the environmental impact of these flights on the world around me, sparking my interest in sustainable aviation as a way for commercial planes to continue to connect families, like my own, in a greener way.”

With an interest in sustainable aviation, she has focused particularly on hybrid-electric aircrafts, centering her projects and research experiences around Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) and systems engineering approaches towards the design of hybrid-electric systems. It is here that her interest in the power distribution and controls aspects of hybrid-electric powertrains stemmed from, propelling her forward through her academic career.

Currently, Reitz serves as a Chief Engineer for the Michigan-Pratt & Whitney Electrification pRoject (M-PWER). This student project team is working on designing, building and testing a parallel hybrid-electric powertrain for an RC airplane to gain a better understanding of the potential benefits and shortcomings of hybrid-electric systems in terms of engine efficiency and emissions reductions. 

“This ambitious project is an opportunity for all the students on the team to gain an exposure to sort of sustainability-focused research and development work happening in industry settings like Pratt & Whitney,” she explains. “I have also found M-PWER to be incredibly beneficial for developing project management and team leadership skills, as well as furthering my experience with MBSE.”

Along with being Chief Engineer of M-PWER, Reitz has also conducted research on MBSE applications in various other academic settings within the Department. Under the guidance of Professor Gökçin Çınar and Dr. Swapnil Jagtap in the IDEAS lab, she has developed MBSE models that can be used to more efficiently investigate the impacts of converting various sustainable propulsion architectures on engine inlet designs. Additionally, she has worked with Professor George Halow for several years on the development of course material for an array of topics that include MBSE, aerospace leadership, product development and engineering ethics. 

“I’ve had a wonderful experience in the Aerospace department, academically, professionally and personally. I’ve had the opportunity to work on some really worthwhile projects and overall feel like I’ve been well-prepared for my future career; the general culture in Aero has been very welcoming and collaborative, and I’ve made some great friends in the department!”

Maria Reitz will be completing her Master’s degree next year through the Sequential Undergraduate/Graduate Study (SUGS) program at the Department, with a goal to enter the industry and work on the development of hybrid-electric systems for commercial aircrafts. Although she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a PhD after her Master’s, Reitz is dedicated to the future of sustainable aviation and continues to pursue her passion for the industry.

While being one of four students from the University to be recognized as Aviation Week Network’s 20 Twenties class of 2024 recipients, she is one of 12 women included in this year’s cohort. This prestigious recognition not only highlights her individual excellence, but also her significant impact towards a future of sustainable aviation.

“As a former board member of Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics (WAA) who continues to stay engaged with WAA, I was excited by the presence of so many women in this year’s cohort, and hope that this is a sign of greater gender diversity to come within the aerospace industry,” explained Reitz after the awards luncheon.

Since its inception in 2013, the 20 Twenties Program has received a total of  635 student nominations from universities worldwide, 180 have been recognized as 20 Twenties winners, and notably, previously seven of those winners have hailed from the University of Michigan. This year, three Michigan Aerospace students, José Luiz Vargas de Mendonça, Sophia Papp and Maria Reitz, along with Nick Tran from the U-M Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE), joined that esteemed list of U-M winners.

“I’m incredibly honored to be named as one of Aviation Week’s 20 Twenties and want to express my deep gratitude to George Halow for his continued belief in my potential and to the Aerospace Department at the University of Michigan for a truly world-class education—it’s no small feat to have four of the twenty nominees this year come from one university! As someone driven to work towards a more equitable and sustainable future for aviation, I’ve found it invigorating to see how those goals have resonated with Aviation Week, as reflected in this year’s class of honorees,” commented Reitz. “Congratulations to my fellow 20 Twenties and go blue!”