Brand New Graduate Initiates Honors Scholarship

2015 Aeronautic and Astronautic Engineering alumna invests in honor society students.

Growing up just outside Houston, space — as in outer space — was never far from Becky Cutting’s mind. With NASA’s Johnson Space Center in her backyard, she caught the bug early.

In fact, Cutting (BSAAE ’13, MSAAE ’15) cannot remember a time when she did not aspire to be a rocket scientist. Regular visits to the space center and interactions with local residents who worked in the industry only solidified her goals. By the time she reached high school, Cutting was well on her way to making her dream a reality.

“I participated in a high school aerospace scholars program, and in addition to classroom work, we did a short internship at NASA,” she says. “The volunteers were co-op students, many of them from Purdue. They told me if I wanted a career in aerospace, I needed to come to West Lafayette.”

Cutting took them at their word, headed to Purdue and never wavered from her plans to pursue a degree in aeronautics and astronautics. Between her undergraduate and graduate studies, she accepted an internship at Boeing. In June 2015, she began working at Boeing full time. As part of the company’s structural dynamics lab, she and a small group of fellow engineers conduct vibration, flutter and other safety tests on new airplanes.

Cutting credits Purdue with helping her gain the confidence and work ethic to contribute right away in a demanding field.

“While Purdue may not have taught me exactly how to do my job, they’re all about teaching you how to solve problems,” she says. “They put you through the ringer, and you come out the other side better for it. Employers know they can rely on Purdue engineering graduates.”

Running an organization like [Sigma Gamma Tau] is tough, but it’s important. Engineers need leadership and communication skills.

(BSAAE ’13, MSAAE ’15)

Dedicated to Leadership and Communication

It was in Purdue’s chapter of Sigma Gamma Tau (SGT), the national aerospace engineering honor society, where Cutting honed her leadership skills and found what she describes as “my family at Purdue.” Her experience with SGT led her to do something highly unusual for a recent graduate: make a cash gift to start a scholarship providing immediate tuition support for an SGT member.

“The other engineering honor societies have scholarships, and lots of money gets poured into them,” she says. “SGT is small, and aerospace is small. I wanted to start something, because I know how hard those students work. Running an organization like this is tough, but it’s important. Engineers need leadership and communication skills.”

To qualify for the SGT Service Scholarship, applicants must be active members of the honor society and write an essay explaining how they have contributed to the organization and how they have benefited by being a member. SGT faculty advisor Michael Grant selects three finalists for review by AAE faculty, who choose the scholarship recipient.

“Becky was one of the most involved presidents of SGT, taking great pride in the purpose of the organization and making sure it was highly active,” Grant says. “I’m not at all surprised that she’s continuing her support of SGT as an alumna.”

Current AAE graduate student Emine (Emily) Atayurt (BSAAE ’15) was the first recipient of the SGT Service Scholarship, for the 2016 fall semester.

Today’s students are graduating with record debt. If many alumni supported this scholarship with even a small contribution, in aggregate the support would be significant.

Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, SGT faculty advisor

Inspiring Others to Give

“I’ve worked with Emily personally,” Cutting says. “It’s so rewarding to see firsthand the financial impact the scholarship has had on her. When I was in school, I wish someone had done this for me. I hope it inspires others to give back.”

It already has. The SGT Service Scholarship has grown from Cutting’s initial $400 contribution to a total of $1,000 for the first year, thanks to matching funds from Boeing and gifts from other SGT alumni. Grant, a Purdue AAE alumnus and former student member of SGT himself, was one of the first to contribute.

Gifts like Cutting’s reinforce the idea of increasing affordability and accessibility for students. Her gift also reinforces the idea of early giving for recent graduates, proving that young professionals have greater influence than they might know.

“With the growing support of alumni, I hope that this scholarship can provide even greater tuition support for a deserving AAE student,” Grant says. “Today’s students are graduating with record debt. If many alumni supported this scholarship with even a small contribution, in aggregate the support would be significant.”

Cutting is committed to funding the scholarship annually as her career advances, and she too hopes that others will continue to join the effort — no matter how big or small their contributions.

“I would love for the scholarship to keep growing. We can make a big difference even with a small amount of money,” she says. “Just showing that you still care about Purdue and about the organizations you belonged to is so important. You just have to be willing to invest in others.”

Sigma Gamma Tau

Sigma Gamma Tau is the national honor society for aerospace engineering. The organization seeks to identify and recognize achievement and excellence in the field.

Each year, SGT’s student chapters elect students, alumni and professionals who, by conscientious attention to their studies or professional duties, uphold this high standard for the betterment of their profession.

As service organizations, SGT student chapters participate in activities such as tutoring and serving on academic committees. The honor society complements the work and goals of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the corresponding professional society. SGT members traditionally are members of AIAA, and the two organizations frequently co-sponsor scientific, professional and social activities.

SGT was founded on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, on Feb. 28, 1953. Since its modest beginnings, the society has grown from 14 to 49 collegiate chapters and from 1,900 to 14,000 initiated members across the country.

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