International Women's Day - AYAA Alumni Jessica Todd

As we all celebrate International Women's Day, we recognise the achievements of all the women who have gone on from AYAA to accomplish incredible things. One example is current MIT graduate student, Jessica Todd, an AYAA alumni and previous Young Australian Space Leader scholarship holder. We asked her to reflect on her experiences:

My name is Jessica Todd, I am currently a Masters student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) working in the field of manned space flight, and I have been involved with the Australian Youth Aerospace Association (AYAA) for the past 6 years.

In 2012, I entered the University of Sydney as new undergraduate student in the Aeronautical Engineering Department. I was one of a handful of women entering the course with over 40 men. All through high school I had been a passionate STEM student, however I found the first year of my university studies incredibly difficult. You are taught at breakneck speed with little real-world context for your studies and limited opportunities to consider future pathways in the field, to network with people outside of academia and your peers, or to expand your knowledge in other STEM fields. I became involved with the AYAA at the end of my first semester of undergraduate engineering, after hearing about their Aerospace Futures conference, as I hoped it might provide me with a wider community in which to explore my options in the field.

The Aerospace Futures conference was an invaluable experience and key turning point in my STEM career. The conference provided me with a wide circle of colleagues with a passion for STEM and the aerospace industry and showed me the exciting opportunities a STEM career could provide. By gathering together Australian STEM professionals, students like myself can see the practical applications of their studies. I was able to meet some truly inspirational women in the aerospace field who had taken widely different paths to the one I had originally planned for myself. It opened my eyes to the various possible ways someone can be successful in a STEM career and inspired me to reach out to other students like myself and encourage them to pursue careers in science and engineering. I have since gone on to become a student mentor to high school girls, and helped to run outreach activities to get young students excited about STEM.

Most significantly, through the Aerospace Futures conference I was awarded the AYAA Young Space Leaders Scholarship, giving me the opportunity to travel to Toronto for the Space Generation Congress and IAC in 2014. This scholarship is one of the AYAA’s greatest achievements, and it set me on my path that led me to where I am now, a graduate student at MIT. Because of this scholarship, I was able to interact with space professionals from all over the world and to get involved in an international forum where my thoughts on the space industry were not only heard but also taken on-board by industry professionals.