Leia’s AIAA SciTech 2024 Experience

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the AIAA SciTech conference in Orlando, Florida along with five exceedingly bright students. Throughout this five-day event, I was able to speak on behalf of Higher Orbits, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the countless other opportunities we were granted as students. I got to participate in the Meet the Employers Event for current University students, engage in technical sessions, and meet many inspiring individuals in the aerospace and aviation industry. I last attended SciTech 2020 as a high school student. Reflecting now, when I compare the wealth of knowledge I’ve gleaned from this event to four years ago, I am proud of how far I have come in not only my technical understanding of the sessions but also in my confidence in connecting with others.

The first event I attended was the Meet the Employers event.  This session was a round table event in which companies were stationed at large tables around the room. We were given fifteen minutes to chat with the recruiters from each company and ask them questions. During this time, I met with representatives from MITRE, APL, Northrup Grumman, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and more. Not only was it beneficial to scout out potential internships, but it also taught me how to better connect with others on a professional level and to learn what is important to me when looking at prospective employers post-graduation.

 All in all, I truly appreciate all those people who come together to encourage and inspire students. Each person I talked to, regardless of their level of experience or title, graciously donated time to answer questions and all the while assumed a level of respect befitting that of a colleague or even friend. Do I know nearly as much as them in any sense? Emphatically not. But that is what is so important about attending these events. As students, we get to learn from each other and connect in ways that we might never have done if it were not for AIAA and conferences like SciTech, and I hope one day I can return the favor.

On Wednesday night, we had our first group meeting, where I got to see Zach, Rachel, Nikhita, Yuri, and Autumn. I loved learning about each student on an individual level and what they are passionate about as well as what they may be looking to pursue. What I loved most about meeting the others was how differently we have applied our experiences with Higher Orbits in our lives. I loved learning about Autumn's passion for flight, mechanical engineering, and her pride in her university. I loved hearing Rachel enthusiastically share her love of science and healthcare (and her chickens). I was astounded at Nikhita’s innate brilliance and drive to pursue pulsar research in college. I deeply admire Yuri’s dedication to bringing Go for Launch to her community and her work ethic in each and every part of her life. And, as another student in my year at Embry-Riddle, team member, and close friend, it was especially wonderful to witness how Zach’s experience with Higher Orbits manifests in his desire to excel in his studies and as secretary on Embry-Riddle’s Aerospace Engineering Student Advisory Board. In this first meeting, the most crucial thing I learned was that while we all differed in our interests and specific career aspirations, we were connected first by our unwavering appreciation for Higher Orbits and Go for Launch.

Finally, Thursday was the day of our presentation! That morning, I observed some technical lectures, conversed with many people around the Expo Hall, and asked them questions about the products, companies, and schools they were representing. There were so many intricate models and structures scattered around that piqued my interest. At 12:30, we began our presentation in the Hub and responded to questions from both Michelle and the audience about our excitement for the future of spaceflight and how industry professionals can be more encouraging and involved in the futures of young people, who may or may not be swayed to pursue careers in the aerospace/aviation industry. Overall, it was inspiring to hear everyone’s personal opinions and how their backgrounds informed their responses.

Written By – Leia Spaniak

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