Online Master's Student in Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering Wins Prestigious SWE Scholarship

Purdue’s Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering programs continue to empower young women to excel in aerospace engineering. Heidi Theisen, a first-year student in Purdue’s online Aeronautics and Astronautics Master’s program, recently received a scholarship from the Society of Women’s Engineers (SWE) for her innovative work and contributions to the field of engineering. 

SWE awards yearly scholarships to undergraduate and graduate-level women engineers based on applicants’ excellence in engineering study and research. In 2020, SWE distributed nearly 260 scholarships to women engineers valued at over $1,000,000. 

Theisen has been a member of SWE since she was a freshman at Michigan State University. During her time at Michigan State, she was heavily involved in SWE, having served on the SWE executive board once and in a chair position three times. 

“My involvement in SWE had an outstanding impact on me as an undergraduate and continues to impact me today,” Theisen said. “By attending multiple national conferences and serving as a leader in this organization, I have gained valuable communication, time management, and decision-making skills and have had the opportunity to network with incredible women from across the globe.” 

As a leader within her school’s SWE chapter, Theisen applied for SWE’s scholarship competition several times and won scholarships on multiple occasions. The scholarship she was awarded in 2021 was one of the larger scholarships she’s received — the GE Women’s Network Scholarship. Sponsored by General Electric, this scholarship supports Theisen’s graduate education and connects her with a large network of GE women engineers. Theisen’s scholarship also gives her a dedicated GE engineering mentor, which she said will help her accomplish her future career goals.

To win the GE Women’s Network Scholarship, Theisen went through a long application process. According to Theisen, applications opened in winter and were due in early spring. The application asked Theisen to detail her extensive involvement with SWE, write essays on her scholarly work and goals for the future, and compile letters of recommendation from mentors. It took several months for SWE to review applications — Theisen didn’t hear back about the scholarship until the summer, but when she received the news she was ecstatic. 

“I couldn’t have been more honored to receive this scholarship,” Theisen said.

In addition to providing her with valuable mentorship opportunities, Theisen’s scholarship is also helping her fund her graduate education, which she said has made it easier for her to focus on making the most of her time at Purdue. 

A dedicated student, Theisen knew she wanted to go to graduate school after graduating from Michigan State in 2021. She applied to multiple programs across the country and received several acceptances, but the prestige of Purdue’s program is what convinced her to become a boilermaker. 

“I was drawn to Purdue’s online aeronautics and astronautics master’s program because it is well-developed, respected, and provides me with the flexibility I need in a degree program,” Theisen said. “Purdue is a top-notch research institution and has run a successful virtual program for many years before the pandemic.”

Theisen decided to complete her graduate studies online so she could be closer to her family and her fiancé. She was impressed by the quality of Purdue’s online engineering programs, which were ranked third in the nation by U.S News and World Report in 2021. Theisen also said she appreciates being able to take the same classes as on-campus engineering students. Some of her friends are in Purdue’s on-campus AAE programs, so taking classes with them has helped her feel like a part of the Purdue community.

Theisen was first drawn to Purdue while working as a NASA Pathways Intern at the Johnson Space Center, where she noticed that there were multiple Purdue alums on her engineering team. Seeing other boilermakers achieve success in space science made her excited to become a part of Purdue’s legacy, said Theisen. 

Though Theisen is only just beginning her graduate studies, she said the amount of options she has at Purdue makes her feel like she can take her education anywhere. Purdue has dozens of Aerospace-related research areas as well as project courses available to online students, so Theisen can become more involved in research projects as she moves up in the program.

As for the future, Theisen hopes to continue her job as a Pathways Intern at NASA, where she works on the development of spacesuit and crew survival systems. She wants to continue to do work in that focus area after graduation and use her education to push the field of aerospace further ahead — just like many of the boilermakers before her. 

To learn more about Purdue’s online Master of Science in Aeronautics and Aerospace Engineering (MSAA), please visit the program’s website.