Published: Jan. 27, 2021

Five University of Colorado Boulder students have earned Brooke Owens Fellowships. The highly competitive program provides paid internships and mentoring to exceptional undergraduate women seeking careers in aviation or space exploration.

Students Grace Antonucci, Giselle Koo, Erica McNamee, Maria Callas, and Jasmin Chadha, with majors from across the College of Engineering and Applied Science, have been named 2021 winners.

CU Boulder has the most 2021 honorees of any university.

The program honors the memory of Brooke Owens, a space industry pioneer and accomplished pilot. Owens’ career took her to NASA, the X-Prize Foundation, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the White House. Her enthusiasm and passion for aerospace led friends and colleagues to create a foundation to inspire and train exceptional undergraduate women with the same zeal for space exploration.

Grace Antonucci (AeroEngr’22)
Grace Antonucci

Host Institution: Blue Origin

Grace Antonucci is a junior studying aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. Ever since Grace was a little girl, she was a planner. When other kids were out on the playground, she was with her best friend debating the intricately fine details of their imaginary boarding school. If those little girls on the picnic bench saw Grace now, they would say “CUT!”. She is behind schedule and off-script.

Truth be told, Grace never planned to be an aerospace engineer. The thought of a STEM career only occurred to her senior year of high school after coming to terms with the fact that medical school might not be a great choice for someone who looks away during the surgical scenes of Grey’s Anatomy.

So, Grace made another plan. She enrolled in the engineering college for applied math and soon after added a degree in engineering physics. Grace began research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology on an indoor localization system aimed to save firefighters in burning buildings. This project was her first taste of the career she had thought she wanted. Frankly, it never felt as rewarding as she’d imagined it would.

Almost two years ago, Grace left her plan and switched her major to aerospace engineering. All the planning in the world can’t predict the feeling; she feels like she has already made it. Space feels like home. In the summer of 2020, Grace had the wonderful opportunity to work at Sierra Nevada Corporation, conducting structural analysis on the Dream Chaser’s wing design.

Grace knows now that planning is not the same thing as dreaming. Her planning is finished. Grace is incredibly excited to work with her host institution, Blue Origin, and can’t wait for the opportunities in store for the summer of 2021.

Giselle Koo (ElCompEngr’21)

Giselle KooHost Institution: HawkEye360

Giselle Koo is a junior studying Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is a non-traditional student, originally dropping out of college in her first semester. For the next six years she held various jobs: a computer lab assistant at a middle school, a handmade jewelry assembler for a local small business, a fabric cutter at a craft store. She also volunteered time at a wildlife rehabilitation clinic and served as a mentor for her high school's FIRST Robotics team. Eventually, after taking the time to heal and grow, she worked up the courage to pursue a career in engineering, enrolling at Tunxis Community College in Connecticut and earning an A.S. in Engineering Science before transferring to CU Boulder in 2019.

During her first semester at CU, Giselle developed an interest in Radio Frequency (RF) engineering through the mentorship of her Embedded Systems professor, Arielle Blum. Professor Blum encouraged her to take on an ambitious final project: to design a radio beacon that could fit inside the nosecone of a model rocket in order to help ease the recovery process after landing. Working with two teammates, she researched many topics far beyond the scope of the class and together they designed two custom PCBs, wrote C drivers from scratch, and integrated and tested a beacon system and data logger that did not quite work. Nevertheless, the team considered the project a success, and Giselle continued to grow her interest in RF systems.

Since then, she has completed two consecutive NASA internships during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Over the summer, Giselle worked remotely with researchers at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Science Data Processing Branch to develop use-cases for the Software Defined Radio (SDR) card being developed for their SpaceCube processing platform. She researched requirements and methods for the implementation of a Global Positioning System (GPS)/Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) receiver, which is a critical capability for guidance and navigation in space, from Low Earth Orbit to the Moon, and maybe even beyond.

During the fall semester, Giselle joined NASA Glenn Research Center's Power and Avionics and Cognitive Signal Processing branches to provide Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) design support for their Cognitive Radio Communication projects. She designed and implemented a register map interface compatible with their SDR development platform, resolving a critical roadblock for the project. The new interface allows the team to upgrade the support package and access important features on the SDR platform that will enable advancements in Cognitive Radio technology, including applications of machine learning to enhance space communication system performance.

This spring, Giselle is working at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is on a team working on the electronics for a Lunar Electrostatic Dust Analyzer.

As a 2021 Brooke Owens Fellow, Giselle will be interning with HawkEye 360 in Herndon, VA. She is excited for the opportunity to work with their Processing and Space teams on electrical engineering projects varying from digital signal processing development to avionics design for their spacecraft.

In the future, Giselle hopes to pursue a master's in Electrical Engineering and work on RF systems to support space science missions. She also is passionate about cultivating the community of gender-minority peers around her in STEM and connecting them with people, ideas and opportunities in the field.

In her free time, Giselle works on avionics projects at CU Boulder's collegiate rocketry team, CU Sounding Rocket Lab. She also likes to explore the outdoors, work on sewing, art and craft projects, and hang out with her pet dove, Noodle. Feel free to contact her @gisellegk8 on Instagram or Twitter.

Erica McNamee (ChemEngr'22)

Erica McNameeHost Institution: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Erica is currently a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder studying chemical engineering and hopes to pursue a career in scientific journalism after graduation. Within this field, she aims to focus her writing on the space industry and renewable energy.

Starting as early as elementary school, Erica was interested in both science and writing, but once she began her college education, she was having difficulty finding a career path that included both facets. When she discovered scientific journalism after taking a course on science writing, she knew she had found her path. She immersed herself in various journalism activities – to become accustomed with the field and to supplement her STEM-focused classes.

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, Erica writes about topics related to the space field, as a result of her interest in the industry and the science behind space travel. She hopes that by communicating science information to the public, she will be able to inspire younger generations of aspiring female scientists to pursue careers in space and other STEM fields. As a Brooke Owens Fellow, Erica will be working within the news and communications center creating and sharing content related to the work being done at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

At CU, Erica writes for the CU Independent where she completes stories for the news team, focusing on a variety of topics that pertain to the university. She also plays alto saxophone in the Golden Buffalo Marching Band in support of the football, basketball, and volleyball teams at their home games. In her spare time, Erica enjoys reading, listening to and playing music, traveling, and spending time with her friends and family.

Maria Callas (AeroEngr'22)

Maria CallasHost Institution: Rocket Lab

Maria Callas is a junior at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder majoring in Aerospace Engineering with minors in Electrical Engineering, and Systems & Signals.

In Spring 2020, Maria did a six month co-op at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Boston, MA. She worked as a performance engineer on a hazard detection ladar system for JPL’s Europa Lander concept. She was also involved in test engineering for an International Space Station optical payload experiment. At Lincoln Laboratory Maria planned and participated in STEM outreach activities for local middle school girls.

Previously, Maria worked under Dr. Allison Anderson and Dr. Torin Clark in the CU Bioastronautics Laboratory. She received a UROP grant and contributed to research investigating multi-modal stochastic resonance to enhance astronaut perceptual performance. At the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) in Boulder she worked in mission operations and operational software for Mars Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), a Mars orbiter currently investigating how the planet’s climate has changed over time.

At CU, Maria is a Norlin Scholar and a Broadening Opportunity through Leadership and Diversity Scholar. Growing up outside of Boulder Maria has always spent her free time in the mountains hiking and skiing. She enjoys climbing, running, cooking Greek food with her family, and drawing.

Maria is excited about the commercial space industry and making space more accessible. Her goal is to use her creative and technical skills to contribute to climate science, modeling and mitigation. She is passionate about remote sensing, communication systems, and using space infrastructure to improve environmental monitoring. Maria is also interested in space sustainability. She plans to pursue graduate school for Electrical Engineering concentrating in optics and photonics.

As a Brooke Owens Fellow, Maria will be interning at Rocket Lab in Long Beach, CA.

Jasmin Chadha (AeroEngr'22)

Jasmin ChadhaHost Institution: Virgin Orbit

Jasmin is a junior studying Aerospace Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is proud to have been born and raised in the city of Chicago, where she loves exploring different worlds within the city and encountering all walks of life on the L train. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a year before transferring to Boulder and loves waking up to the mountains every day.

Jasmin has dreamt of being an astronaut since she was three years old, and has been captivated by space since then. In her childhood, she saved newspaper clippings of space news, read books about the solar system before bed, and visited Kennedy Space Center, all of which contributed to her ongoing fascination with space. One of her favorite memories is her trip to Carbondale, IL to witness the total solar eclipse in 2017 right before her senior year of high school, which further inspired her to reach for her dreams of working in the field of aerospace - and hopefully becoming an astronaut someday.

At Boulder, Jasmin is currently the Secretary of the CU Boulder chapter of SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space), the Vice Chair of the CU Boulder chapter of AIAA (American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics), and an active member of the Zeta chapter of Chi Omega. She loves working as an Undergraduate Research Assistant at BioServe Space Technologies, where she helps the company support life science research experiments conducted by astronauts in the ISS National Lab, a role that constantly excites and amazes her. While her schoolwork and outside commitments keep her quite busy, Jasmin enjoys using her free time to bake for friends and coworkers, hike, and learn how to play guitar.

As a Brooke Owens Fellow, Jasmin is elated to join the team at Virgin Orbit to continue opening space for everyone.

Honoree bios from Check out their website for information on all of the winners.