Michelle Lin, a graduating senior earning degrees in both aerospace engineering sciences and applied math has received two awards from the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Lin is a 2021 recipient of the Outstanding Undergraduate in Research Award and Outstanding Undergraduate in Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Award.
Below she talks about her work, time at CU Boulder, and shares advice for incoming students:
What is your favorite memory from your time at CU Boulder?
My favorite moments seem minuscule when spoken aloud, as all great favorite moments do. Getting coffee with Phil Larson (and walking his dog, Cashew, around campus), proving a beautiful theorem in Applied Analysis, snowy walks to the C4C before an APPM final. Cheering collectively in the football stadium, playing water volleyball at the rec, those conversations within Andrews that struck a cord in my heart, getting calzones to power through those long coding homeworks, thinking that I just failed a midterm and laughing in the snowstorm in the Trader Joe’s parking lot regardless because it’s a beautiful night to be alive.
The combination of every single tiny magical moment that reminded me of the immense beauty and love that surrounds me — that is my favorite memory.
What accomplishment are you most proud of, either academically or personally? I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work at SpaceX and Blue Origin in the last two summers, on very different but equally inspiring projects. I will never forget my first launch at SpaceX HQ on my 3rd day of work. Surrounded by friends and excited engineers, the atmosphere was electric and I definitely cried a little. In conjunction with these experiences, I'm a Brooke Owens Fellow (2019) and a Matthew Isakowitz Fellow (2020) — I’m forever honored to carry on their legacies in the industry.
Personally, I’ve had many amazing experiences during the last four years. Some that come to mind are competing in the Miss Colorado USA pageant, which was a life-changing and empowering experience; speaking at SWE Salt Lake City as the Keynote Speaker and being able to inspire hundreds with my story; and having founded CU Women of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which is one of my proudest legacies I leave behind.
What is your plan for after graduation?
I’m planning on moving to Hawai’i in the summer to dive, surf, hike, and reflect on the last four years. I’m looking forward to having time off before starting my PhD at MIT AeroAstro. I will be working with Dr. Jeff Hoffman in the Human Systems Lab and Dr. Ariel Ekblaw in the Media Lab. I’m honored and excited to create my own niche in the intersection of human factors and space architecture, supported by incredible faculty as a NSF Graduate Research Fellow and the Jack and Vickie Kerrebrock Fellow for 2020-2021.
Tell us about a moment (or moments) when you felt like you hit your stride or felt like you were “officially” an engineer.
Several moments come to mind. My summer at SpaceX thoroughly transformed me as an engineer and it was the first time when I felt like I hit my stride. As one of the engineers working on Crew Dragon primarily for the Demo-2 mission, watching that launch was incredibly emotional and empowering. Attending the NASA Human Research Program Investigator’s Workshop was also a marker in my research career. I presented at my first poster session with my own research and toured JSC with our collaborators. To be surrounded with novel research and realizing I wanted to contribute to this field was a defining moment in my own trajectory.
What was the biggest challenge for you during your engineering education? What did you learn from it?
I have faced a lot of gender and sexual harassment in college, especially in the first couple years. As my introduction to engineering, I was taught that my skillsets were unimportant, that I was too aggressive to be successful, and that there wasn’t a place for me in the spaces I wanted to be in. Through a lot of therapy and separating myself from these toxic mindsets, I am now able to use my own voice to create communities that prioritize access and inclusion.
What is your biggest piece of advice for incoming engineering students?
Engineering is more than a skillset — you are here to hone your technical problem solving skills and to become a more ethical and conscientious leader. The industry needs to be more accessible and inclusive to everyone, and only those already in the industry can make that happen. Follow your heart and don’t let others distract you. Remember that you deserve to pursue all of your passions, not just ones that are related to engineering. The road ahead will be long and difficult, but the promise of a better future for you and everyone who follows is worth that hardship.
Editor’s note: Discrimination and harassment have no place in our college. We commend Michelle’s courage to speak up about her experience and her advocacy toward creating a more inclusive community. We encourage all of our community members to take care of themselves and look out for others to prevent and interrupt unfair treatment or intimidating behavior aimed at any member of the campus community. For resources and support, visit CU Boulder’s Don’t Ignore It website.
CU Boulder is committed to preventing and addressing sexual misconduct, discrimination and harassment based on race, color, national origin, pregnancy, sex, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran (military service) status, political affiliation, or political philosophy.
Incidents of discrimination and harassment or sexual misconduct are reported to the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance. The OIEC provides individuals with various options for addressing concerns and connects individuals with confidential support resources. Learn more at the OIEC website.