Have you ever met someone, and you could just tell in the first minutes of talking to them that someday they will be wildly successful? Whether it be in the way they carry themselves in the conversation, or the way they light up when they talk about what they’re passionate about. Well, that happened to me at the Brooke Owens Fellowship Summit this year-- only it happened 35 times.
The Brooke Owens Fellowship Program, or BOFP, consists of a cohort of 36 fellows or “Brookies” as we affectionately prefer to be called. Its creation was in memory of Dawn Brooke Owens, who lost her battle with cancer in 2016. A few of her dear friends, Lori Garver, Cassie Lee, and William Pomerantz however, were not done fighting. So, they sought to create a program to serve as an inspiration and a professional experience to young women who they knew to be the future of the aerospace industry -- pioneers just like Brooke. Part of the process of cultivating the necessary skills for our careers was to invite the 36 fellows to Washington D.C. for a 3 day summit. From my eager arrival on a Wednesday night to my heavyhearted departure the following Sunday, it was an experience I will never forget.
The first day of the summit began with attendance to the Future Space Leaders Conference on Capitol Hill. There were three panel sessions about national security, manufacturing in space and the space market along with Congressional keynote speakers Brian Babin, Derek Kilmer, Jim Banks, and Barbara Comstock. During break, many of the fellows met with Congresswoman Martha McSally, who was the first woman fighter pilot, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. She is a prime embodiment of statement that “‘well-behaved’ women seldom change the world.” Following our visit with Congresswoman, we made our way to the Lockheed Martin Global Vision Center where we were briefed on our Grand Challenge project. There were two grand challenge subjects: “Smarter than the Dinosaurs” that dealt with near Earth object detection and deflection and “Blue Marble” addressing the water shortage on our blue planet. The six teams, three teams per subject, will spend allotted time given over two days to come up with their dream solution and present their solution to the fellows, founders, mentors and subject matter experts on Saturday morning of the Summit. To wrap up our busy Thursday, a reception and banquet was held where each fellow gave a Spoken Word introduction of themselves. We laughed, we cried and we proved to everyone that each of us, in our own ways, embodied some of Brooke’s spirit.
We hit the ground running on day two with a Mentor Round Robin. Each of the fellows met with two pre-selected mentors for half an hour to discuss our career goals. Following the Round Robin, each Grand Challenge team was given time to prepare questions and then interview the subject matter experts regarding our projects. Most teams agreed that after their interviews, they felt a redesign was necessary, but part of the challenge of this Grand Challenge was that we had to develop a dream solution in a very short amount of time. After the work session, we had the privilege of having lunch with Astronaut Pam Melroy. Pam served as pilot on two flights on the Discovery, and was the mission commander on another flight, making her the second woman to command a space shuttle mission. She shared not only the successes of her career, but also the lowest points in her life when she was initially disqualified from the astronaut program; it was a fantastic lesson in perseverance. Following lunch, the fellows were invited to a panel discussion on why the founders started an aerospace fellowship just for women. Even when created out of good intentions, the founders soon discovered that there were those who believed closing off a fellowship to only women was a negative thing. Naturally, each of the fellows disagreed. The space community is very small, and the group of women in the space community is even smaller. It is our duty to support one another and this fellowship does exactly that. After the panel, we attended two of three discussions to broaden our horizons. The three discussions were: Communicating Science and Technology with Cassie Lee, Serina Diniega and Emily Calandrelli, Business and Entrepreneurship with Will Pomerantz and Carissa Christensen, and lastly, Government and Policy with Lori Garver, Rebecca Spyke-Keiser and Cristin Dorgelo. Next, the fellows assembled once again to work on their Grand Challenge projects, only this time it had to be completed. To put the time in perspective, we had less than a full day’s worth of work to come up with a solution to save the world and create a presentation for it. As a reward for our hard work, we wrapped up the day with a private sunset cruise on the Potomac, and it was on a pirate boat!
On our final day of the summit, the teams were tasked to present their Grand Challenge solution to the group in less than 7 minutes. Following the presentations, the subject matter experts were given 20 minutes to reflect, provide feedback, and ask questions about each team’s solutions. Our project addressed the water shortage in the Horn of Africa by implementing a long-term engineering solution using our advances in satellite technology while acknowledging the internal social conflict that each individual country faces. Along with a solution, we were tasked to discuss collaboration with other companies, including our host companies, and address where we believed we could locate a source of funding. Upon reflection on the project, we all realized that this was the first time ever that we have worked on an engineering team of all women. Although our work at the summit was coming to a close, it was clear that our jobs as fellows would span over the next coming years as we bring in more classes of Brooke Owens fellows. In the true spirit of Brooke and her “work hard, play hard” mentality, the rest of the day was dedicated to museum tours and a fiesta at the Garver-Brandt home. We closed the summit with swimming, music, dinner, dancing and parting gifts. To express our profound gratitude, the fellows presented a photo book for each founder to allow for each class to add their group picture and signatures. In return each fellow received a bracelet with the fellowship logo. Then came the most difficult part of the summit (more difficult than the Grand Challenge and definitely more difficult than it was to stand in front of 70+ people and perform Spoken Word) -- saying “see you later.”
The summit was an unforgettable experience in leadership and networking, but more importantly, it created a powerful support system of young women. What started out as formal handshakes and “hellos” quickly became tight hugs and reluctant “good-byes.” This experience is one I will carry with me throughout my professional career and the friends I have made will go even further. It has proven to me that the goals I once thought were far-fetched dreams are actually well within my reach. I never met Brooke, but I can imagine she was an exceptionally inspirational woman to have motivated the creation of the Brooke Owens Fellowship. It is truly an honor to be compared to her.
Brooke Owens Fellow, Class of 2017