January 20, 2022

Kiera’s ASCEND 2021 Experience

November of 2021, I had the honor of attending AIAA's ASCEND conference during which my mind was packed with joy, excitement, and delight as I rushed from session to session trying to learn and understand as much as I possibly could amongst countless industry experts.

As a young girl, I always marveled upon getting to sit in Apollo capsule replicas in museums, and my eyes would predictably go wide in awe seeing the classic NASA videos of astronauts completing EVA’s. Although thrilling, the ability to be a part of these fascinating endeavors seemed like a far-fetched dream that I might never have a connection to. As a three-time Go For Launch! attendee, I was lucky enough to grow at each event around people
who shattered those assumed barriers and made it possible for me to believe in my abilities. In the time between Go For Launch! events, I have found joy in discovering my role as part of the Higher Orbits family. Although I have been able to spread the word about the amazing work Higher Orbits does by being a Student Ambassador and part of their Advisory Board, I was still significantly shocked when I received the jaw-dropping email that I could apply to accompany Higher Orbits in Las Vegas to speak at a conference especially tailored to the space industry. When I received the news that I was selected to be part of the presenting group at ASCEND, I was somehow even more excited than when I got the original email. As a 16 year old, I had trouble distinguishing between if I was more thrilled to be offered such a steller opportunity, or the extraordinary reality that I was actually going to be a part of it!

With all the built up enthusiasm for ASCEND, I can easily say that my experience surpassed my expectations. By the end of my short time at the conference I felt that I had made strides in learning how to properly network, how to take away the “big picture” of a presentation, and how to advertise my story in a way that applied to the main message I was trying to share.
The eager zest for learning that the individuals I interacted with at ASCEND carried reminded me of the bold and daring nature of spaceflight, a concept that inspires me to find my place in the space industry every day! Through ASCEND, I was also able to have my first introductory lesson in how to network with professionals that are prepared to take you seriously. Through my time with Higher Orbits, I have been lucky enough to gain experience in how to prepare and execute presentations for a public audience. This trait has both increased my confidence to share my ideas as an individual and also improved my communication skills through these opportunities to share my story.

An aspect of ASCEND that I found to be incredibly moving was the atmosphere (no pun intended!) after we had given our presentation. The space given to connect with the other Higher Orbits student ambassadors ultimately created a bond between the four of us that had formed from achieving a shared goal, a skill we had each also developed from presenting our experimental designs at Go For Launch! events. I found significance in the fact that although we were all different ages from different events with individual stories, we were able to effortlessly
combine as a unit to express to the audience the role Higher Orbits has played in our lives as a whole. The uplifting spirit in the air and the mood of success empowered me to take pride in both the growth of Higher Orbits, but also how us students have been able to share a role in developing the unbreakable sense of community which Higher Orbits withholds. After these events end, there is a comforting sense that your connections do not disappear, but in turn combine to become your support system. I believe that this network “safety net” is crucial to success because it creates a structure to fall on. This concept can equip a person with the confidence that ultimately may push them forward to succeed. I intend to use my experiences at
ASCEND as a guide to help me navigate my personal network, and in time, I hope to pass along
the support that I have been given to help other incoming Go For Launch! students join the ever
growing Higher Orbits family.

During our session, Inspiring The Next Generation Of STEMists & Explorers To Higher Orbits, Michelle Lucas mentioned that, “One of the things that is powerful in our industry is our stories”. This spoke volumes to me, serving as a reminder that although ASCEND spotlighted many excellent individuals, it was ultimately held to serve as a forum to celebrate and investigate all the incredible stories that have combined to forge success in the space industry, and all the new victories that are soon to come.

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