Kamis and Pfister named 2019 “Brookies”
The 2019 class of 38 Brooke Owens Fellowship recipients includes two juniors in the Department of Aerospace Engineering: Elena Kamis and Natalie Pfister. As “Brookies” they will be paired with two senior or executive-level mentors and matched with one of the program’s host institutions for a paid summer internship.
Like many budding engineers, as a child, Kamis began tinkering using anything she could get her hands on. She built circuits with old Christmas lights, putting together model rockets, sailing wind-powered toy cars. She also confesses that she watched “way too much Animal Planet.”
At U of I, Kamis is an active member of the Illinois Space Society, acting previously as the Engineering Council Representative, SEDS Chapter Representative, and the Educational Outreach Director. She was on the 2017 NASA Space Grant team that placed third, on the finalist team for the 2018 NASA RASC-AL, and on the High Altitude Ballooning projects for the 2017 Solar Eclipse. She is also a member of Alpha Omega Epsilon, a professional and social engineering sorority.
When she’s not launching rockets or designing missions to Mars, Kamis enjoys volunteer outreach projects. She is a certified boy scout mentor in the Rocketry merit badge, has taught Science Olympiad teams that won first place in aerodynamics and astronomy, and planned a five-week after school program named BLAST at a local elementary school.
Kamis said her favorite day of the year is Illinois Space Day—an annual event hosted by ISS to teach over 200 local Illinois students about space and STEM topics. In 2017, she had the honor of organizing the event. She said she loves seeing the unbiased enthusiasm young students have toward sciences, no matter their gender.
Applicants for the Brooke Owens Fellowship were asked to create a multimedia essay. For her submission, Kamis created a word-identity collage inside of an Illinois Block I and co-hosted a podcast with sophomore Shivani Ganesh.
Natalie Pfister is studying abroad in Sweden this semester. Come summer, she’ll be heading to Generation Orbit in Atlanta, Georgia. She will be working with the structures team on their experimental aircraft, the X-60A, which is a hypersonic test vehicle.
For the application, one of the essay prompts Pfister chose was “What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever screwed up? What did you learn from it?” She wrote about a mistake she made while working in a lab as a test engineering intern when she was a freshman. After berating herself and questioning the career path she had chosen in engineering, Pfister wrote that she owned her mistake and, with the help of her supervisor, was able to fix it.
Pfister ended the essay writing, ”In a field known for the ‘failure is not an option’ mindset, it is difficult to allow ourselves to fail without shame, but in allowing ourselves and others this, we can progress even further as engineers. Removing this shame makes us more open to asking others for help. Accepting failure as a realistic option also allows others to check our work so that mistakes can be stopped before they occur. I have accepted my errors for what they were, and I now know to triple check my work to prevent them in the future, but the lessons I gained went far beyond just practical engineering skills. In being open about my mistakes, I learned that more often than not I will receive help in return for this openness, not condemnation.”
For another component of the application, Pfister was asked to create a “multimedia essay.” Her submission is a short video in response to the prompt, “Not everyone loves aviation or space exploration as much as we do. What do you do when confronted by a person—perhaps a family member or a childhood friend—who doesn’t get why you are so excited about aerospace?
According to the Brooke Owens Fellowship website, women who are enrolled in a college, university, or community may apply for a paid summer internship. Although any major or concentration is acceptable, applicants who are pursuing a full-time career in the aviation or aerospace industry are more often selected. The program is designed to be an on-ramp into the industry for talented women, regardless of their background.
The Brooke Owens Fellowship Program was founded by Lori Garver, Cassie Kloberdanz Lee, and William Pomerantz to honor their friend who passed away in 2016 at age 35 from cancer. Owens was an alumna of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the International Space University. Professionally, she worked at the NASA's Johnson Space Center, the non-profit XPRIZE Foundation, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, and the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Applications for the Brooke Owens Class of 2020 Fellows are due in November 2019.