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Student’s Fellowship Is a First for ODU « News @ ODU

By Sherry DeBary

Although Catherine Fisher applied for a very competitive fellowship to work in the aviation industry, she was sure that she would not be selected.

The competition was tough. Only 51 students will be selected from more than 1,000 applications, and no student has been accepted from a Virginia university.

After going through the first few rounds and an intense interview process, Fisher was still surprised when she was offered the Brooke Owens Fellowship.

“I still can’t believe the whole thing,” she said. “The baby inside me does backflips every time I think of it!”

Fisher, who will graduate from Old Dominion University’s mechanical engineering technology program in December, will spend 12 weeks as a strategic operations intern at Ball Aerospace in Washington, DC.

The Brooke Owens Fellowship is named after aerospace pioneer and accomplished pilot Dawn Brooke Owens (1980-2016). The fellowship offers paid internships and executive coaching to female undergraduate and gender minority students in aviation majors.

Fisher, a Springfield, New York, center resident, already had a master’s degree in teaching and experience in the field before returning to school as a distance learning student.

“I was drawn to the wonderful academic rankings of Abu Dhabi University, the research projects undertaken by the department’s professors, and the accessibility of the distance learning students,” she said.

I found one professor, Orlando Ayala, particularly motivating.

“Dr. Ayala has been completely integral to my success so far,” Fisher said. “He went above and beyond in ensuring my academic success in the coursework, as well as partnering with me to complete my design project.

“His guidance, advice, and encouragement made me think more critically about my designs, resulting in an enriching experience at university.”

Ayala, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Technology, was in turn a complement to Fisher.

“Catherine is a great student and a much better human,” he said. “She is passionate about engineering, and that passion makes our teaching job easy.”

Ayala noted that Fisher is determined to use her engineering knowledge to protect our planet and help humanity.

“We are currently working on a large design project in which we are trying to make a 3D-printed artificial soil that will allow better control of nutritional supplements for plant roots while reducing water use and energy consumption,” he said.

“There is no doubt that the idea, when successful, will eventually help with the world’s food production problems and spawn ideas for growing plants in outer space,” he added.

Fisher, who joked that she’s in a “career 2.0,” is taking a different approach this time.

“I’ve been defining myself by my career, and I no longer think that’s sustainable,” she said. “Now I try to think of my future as the pursuit of my interests, not what I do for work.”

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