Brooke Owens Fellowship provides life-changing networking opportunitiy

The national fellowship for undergraduate students who identify as a woman or another type of gender minority has an application deadline of Nov. 12.
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The inaugural class of the Brooke Owens Fellowship, including Purdue AAE students Amy Comeau and Pau Pineda.  

The group message can get lengthy.

But when Amy Comeau or Pau Pineda Bosque have a burning question about a key decision that needs to be made about their careers or when they want feedback on an idea or seek advice on how to handle a situation, they know exactly where to go: To like-minded women who affectionately call themselves “Brookies.”

Comeau (BSAAE ’18) and Pineda Bosque (BSAAE ’18) were selected in the augural class of the Brooke Owens Fellowship in 2017, and they didn’t quite know then what they were getting. When they applied for the Fellowship as undergraduates in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, they saw the unique opportunity of networking, mentorship and hands-on learning as an ideal combination to launch their aerospace engineering careers. But would the experience deliver on the first-year program’s promise to serve as an inspiration and career boost for women who aspired to “shake up the aerospace industry?”

Short answer, yes.

“To put it simply, the Fellowship absolutely changed my life,” Comeau said. “That’s a big statement, but it is very true.”

Perhaps the greatest benefit of being a “Brookie” is the supportive network and relationships built with each other. They can share the same struggles and celebrate each other’s successes. They can relate on specific levels, whether it be a technical project that has its hiccups or learning how to handle a new, potentially overwhelming, role as a young aerospace engineer. There’s a strong camaraderie that quickly develops within each class — and continues to blossom as new classes are added.

The Class of 2020 will be selected soon. The application deadline is Nov. 12, and Comeau and Pineda Bosque are hopeful AAE undergraduate students who identify as a woman or another type of gender minority will seize the opportunity to become a Brookie.

“Brooke Owens is great. There are so many things it gives you,” Pineda Bosque said.

Comeau said being involved in the first class was “kind of a whirlwind,” and it took time for her to realize the significance the selection would have.

“I honestly don’t know if anyone realized how much an impact the whole program was going to have,” said Comeau, a satellite systems engineer at The Boeing Company. “Of course, the founders came up with this wonderful idea, and I think they were aiming for 10 people the first year. They ended up getting 36, and it has been 36 or more the past three years. So now we have almost or over 100 young women and gender minorities who are pursuing careers in the aerospace industry. It’s amazing.

“Going to Purdue, one of the best undergrad programs in the entire country, amazing classes and the schoolwork really prepared me well for industry, but the thing that the Brooke Owens Fellowship really gave me that I realize now is this peer network of some seriously incredible women that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Or maybe I would have met later on in my career. It’s just a vast resource network of peers, which is amazing.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, each person selected as a Fellow has taken ownership of the program. Often in conversation, Comeau and Pineda Bosque say “we” and “our” when talking about the Fellowship. It’s evident they care about the program. They value the mission. They appreciate the passion of the founders. Lori Garver, Cassie Kloberdanz Lee and Will Pomerantz, care deeply, too. They started the program, after all, to honor their good friend Dawn Brooke Owens, a space industry pioneer and accomplished pilot who died in 2016.

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Their enthusiasm for identifying the top rising talent in the industry — and maximizing that talent with unique opportunities to grow and learn — is evident in how they’ve set up the Fellowship.

An extensive interview process matches Fellows to paid internship positions with some of the top aerospace companies in the country, and Fellows spend 12 weeks over the summer working on projects. Current “host institutions” include The Boeing Company, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, among others. There’s actually a waiting list for companies interested in becoming host intuitions.

Fellows also are paired with two senior or executive-level mentors, one at their host company and another elsewhere in industry. Mentors include astronauts, CEOs, leaders in government, celebrated scientists and engineers and “a self-made billionaire,” according to the Brooke Owens website.

“The mentors are insane,” Pineda Bosque said with a laugh, speaking to the significance of the list. “It’s really pretty awesome to get close to these people. They’re incredible people. A lot of them I can still reach out to and talk to on a really friendly level.”

The Fellowship also offers a summit during the summer that allows for one-on-one mentoring and private Q&As with some of the industry’s most innovative people.

And, of course, the network only continues to grow as Fellows are added. The inaugural class was 36, the Class of 2018 had 40 Fellows, and last year’s class had 38. It’s expected that the upcoming class will have a similar number of Fellows — and not because the applicant pool is lacking. The website said applicants with 4.0 GPAs and letters of recommendation from astronauts and CEOs have been declined during the first three years of the program. The Fellowship aims to select “future leaders of the aerospace community.”

So far, so good, said Pineda Bosque.

“It’s been incredible to see it grow,” said Pineda Bosque, a propulsion test engineer at Virgin Orbit. “When we did it the first year, the program was already great, and it’s added so many new sides of it and continued to grow. I think people who are applying today are getting an even better deal than I got.

“The more people we have, the more we infiltrate the industry and give each other access to different parts of it.”