Some high school students seem to have their entire lives already mapped out. Christine Reilly was not one of them -- picking a college major was not easy. Now, as a CU Boulder Smead Aerospace junior and Norlin Scholar, she cannot imagine herself anywhere else.
In many ways, engineering was an obvious choice. She grew up in Silicon Valley and is the daughter of two software engineers. However, it took a wish, or more accurately, WISH, the Woman in STEM High School program, to put her on the aerospace track.
"One of my teachers told me about it. It is an online course from NASA. It was really fun and I started to look at aerospace more and I got really excited," Reilly says.
That enthusiasm only continues to grow. She has thrown herself fully into her chosen major. In addition to her course load, Reilly has worked at the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, took part in an international math competition, and last academic year held a Discovery Learning Apprenticeship in professor Hanspeter Schaub’s Autonomous Vehicle Systems laboratory, where she earned rave reviews.
“She did an excellent job. I have had several outstanding apprenticeships, but she achieved a level beyond prior students. She returned this fall to continue some of the work she was doing, just for fun. As a result we included her as a co-author on a recent paper, a first for an apprenticeship student working in my lab,” Schaub says.
This summer should prove to be the even more exciting. Reilly was recently awarded a Brooke Owens Fellowship, a national mentoring and internship initiative for women in aerospace. Students are assigned to a participating company, and Reilly will be enjoying the sunny skies and sandy beaches of southern California – from inside the halls of Virgin Galactic’s Long Beach campus.
“I think the space startups like Virgin are doing really exciting projects. I’m going to be working with their LauncherOne system, which will shoot satellites into space from a flying Boeing 747,” Reilly says.
In addition to the internship, the fellowship will also connect her with a network of other student interns at companies across the country. The summer will conclude with a conference in Washington DC where fellows will share their experience.
The program honors the memory of Brooke Owens, who was an aerospace engineer at NASA, the X-Prize Foundation, and the FAA. Her enthusiasm and passion for the field led friends and colleagues to create a foundation to recognize undergraduate women with the same zeal for space exploration. Reilly certainly fits the bill.
“I like innovation, and doing things that haven’t been done before. It’s also romantic, the idea of humans going off into space on an adventure,” Reilly says.