Akila Saravanan, an MIT junior double majoring in aerospace engineering and electrical engineering and computer science, is a recipient of the Brooke Owens Fellowship. “Brookies” are selected based on their commitment to their communities, stand-out creative abilities, record of leadership, incredible talent, and their desire to pursue a career in aerospace. Saravanan is among 51 women selected from a competitive pool of thousands of applicants this year. As part of her fellowship, Saravanan will be working at Venturi Astrolab in Hawthorne, California this summer.
“I’m honored to receive this fellowship and excited for the opportunities it will open up for me in my career,” says Saravanan. “The internship itself will be a great experience, but I think the biggest benefit is the network it will provide me within the aerospace community. I believe the bonds I’ll make through this experience will last beyond just the summer, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
The Brooke Owens Fellowship is a nonprofit program that aims to increase access and opportunities for undergraduate women and other gender minorities by connecting them with internships, mentors in the field, and other networking opportunities to help alleviate the gender imbalance that has been prevalent historically in the aerospace industry.
“I’m looking forward to exploring commercial research, which will expose me to a different side of research and allow me to work on new and exciting projects,” says Saravanan. “To me, one of the most interesting aspects of commercial aerospace is how it operates on a much shorter time-scale compared to academic research, due to the speed of putting ideas into production. I think the coolest part of this will be to see my work being used on upcoming missions.”
Currently, Saravanan is working through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program in the Dynamics, Infrastructure Networks, and Mobility (DINaMo) Research Group. Her project focuses on developing an autonomous and reactive continuous data collection system deployed on fleets of drones, focused on making decisions about optimal sampling locations in a large grid while accounting for resource constraints to coordinate multi-vehicle flight.
“The Brooke Owens Fellowship is a prestigious honor to receive, and after working with Akila for the past two years, it’s incredibly well-deserved,” says Hamsa Balakrishnan, William E. Leonhard (1940) Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and principal investigator of DINaMo. “Akila has already made significant contributions while working in my lab, and I’m excited to see how she grows as a researcher after gaining industry experience in her internship next summer.”
Founded in 2016, the fellowship program is named in honor of D. Brooke Owens, a pilot and aerospace industry veteran whose experience spanned NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the White House Office of Management and Budget before she died of cancer at age 36 the same year. This year’s selection panel included Emily Calandrelli SM ’13, a science communicator and host of Netflix’s “Emily’s Wonder Lab,” as well as Caroline Juang, a PhD candidate at Columbia University in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences; Diana Trujillo, an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Kayla Watson, a system reliability engineer at Amazon Prime Air; and Will Pomerantz, co-founder of the Brooke Owens Fellowship.