Published: April 26, 2017 By

Three University of Colorado Boulder students are among 36 nationwide who have won 2017 Brooke Owens Fellowships for “exceptional undergraduate women” seeking careers in aviation and space exploration.

CU Boulder astronomy student Kaitlin Engelbert and aerospace engineering students Christine Reilly and Amanda Turk have been placed into a paid summer internship at three of the nation's leading aviation or space companies.


Kaitlin Engelbert. CU Boulder photos by Patrick Campbell.

Engelbert, who is studying astrophysical and planetary science and plans to graduate in May 2019, will do her internship at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. There, she is eager to meet “like-minded people who share the same passion as I do so we can further the movement to inspire the public with science.”

Engelbert, who comes from Highlands Ranch, credits her passion for astronomy with a high-school teacher who led field trips to CU Boulder’s Sommers-Bausch Observatory.

“We observed the Orion Nebula through the telescopes, and I fell in love with the night sky instantly,” Engelbert says, adding that she’s always been curious and wondered why things happen. 

“The subject matter in astronomy became absolutely fascinating to me.”

Today, she says, the passion stirred during the high-school field trips remains strong. “I’m a space buff because I strive to be a part of the movement that inspires students and the public to involve themselves within the aerospace industry.”

Engelbert is a Learning Assistant (LA) for an introductory astronomy class, helping professors and graduate-student instructors convey the wonder of space. This experience has been rewarding, she adds:

“As an LA for an introductory astronomy class, I had students come up to me and thank them for inspiring them to join the aerospace industry!”

Engelbert is minoring in communications, focusing on public relations, and working toward a certificate in teaching.

In the long term, Engelbert hopes to do educational and public outreach for a space corporation, and she says she hopes to inspire others who want to become a part of the aerospace industry.

The 36 Brooke Owens Fellows were selected from an applicant pool composed of promising students enrolled in Ivy League universities, major research universities, historically black colleges and universities, liberal-arts colleges, community colleges and major international universities.

Each candidate was evaluated on the basis of her technical excellence, creativity, commitment to service and career-growth potential. The 2017 class of fellows encompasses students pursuing careers in engineering, policy, journalism, business development, and combinations thereof.

In addition to their paid summer work experience, each fellow has been paired with two hand-picked, senior aerospace professionals to serve as mentors, according to a statement by the Future Space Leaders Foundation, which awards the fellowship.

One of those mentors will be from the fellow's host company or institution, while the other will be from a different part of industry. The pool of mentors includes the two most recent deputy administrators of NASA, NASA's most recent chief scientist, the president of SpaceX, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, and a five-time space shuttle astronaut.

The Brooke Owens Fellowship Program was founded in 2016 to honor the memory of space-industry pioneer and accomplished pilot D. Brooke Owens, who passed away in June 2016 at the age of 35, after a hard-fought battle with cancer.

The program was co-founded by Lori Garver, former deputy administrator of NASA and now general manager at the Air Line Pilots Association; Cassie Lee, director of aerospace applications at Vulcan, Inc.; and William Pomerantz, vice president of special projects at Virgin Galactic.

Garver says the 2017 class of fellows is “an astonishingly talented bunch,” adding:

“These women have the potential not only to contribute to the aerospace industry but to lead it. In a career full of inspiring projects and impressive individuals, helping create this program and getting to know these new fellows has been an absolute highlight.”