Student leaders land NASA internships

Women in Flight: sharing pathways to success

headshot of a young women wearing a light blue button down shirt

Rachel Wiggins founded Women in Flight in October 2019. Photo/provided.

Rachel Wiggins recently landed her dream internship through the NASA Pathways Program. And she wants to show her classmates at the University of Cincinnati how to find their own success.

Wiggins, a Ph.D. candidate in aerospace engineering in UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science, is president and founder of the UC student organization Women in Flight.  

Formed in 2019, the organization’s mission is to ensure the success of women in aerospace and aviation — academically, professionally and socially — and empower future generations of female students interested in those fields.  

“I definitely mentioned Women in Flight in my interview with NASA — how I formed this club, its mission and what it means to me to represent and promote female engagement in STEM,” said Wiggins. “I think that [my initiative to create Women in Flight] is something they valued, especially with the vast difference in gender ratios in engineering.” In the US, women represent only 21% of engineering graduates and 13% of working engineers. Women in Flight is taking action to drive change and increase diversity in the field, starting with fellow students. 

In fact, another member of Women in Flight, undergraduate electrical engineering student Anna Lanzilotta, also accepted a summer internship in the NASA Pathways Program.  

“I think that’s a big accomplishment, having two members from UC land internships from NASA,” said Wiggins. "It's a feather in our cap to have Women in Flight members utilize our resources and obtain their dream jobs. That's the purpose of this organization." 

Sharing success stories is a crucial element. Seeing women succeed in their field of choice can be inspiring and motivating for students. 

Women in Flight prides itself on supporting women in the aerospace and aviation field and connecting them with people who are specifically looking to recruit diverse candidates.

Rachel Wiggins, UC aerospace engineering student

One of Wiggins’ top goals is to offer members a wide variety of professional development and networking opportunities for one-on-one interaction with someone who’s been where they are so the students can learn how others have attained desirable professional opportunities.

In November, a special guest from the Air Force Military Command spoke to the group: UC alumna Jessica Brueggeman, a plans and programs engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Brueggeman earned her bachelor’s in aerospace engineering from UC, and a master’s in astronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. 

Brueggeman compared the pros and cons of military, civil service, government contracting and private sector jobs. She also gave a step-by-step tutorial on applying for jobs on USAJobs, the federal government's official employment site. 

Portals like USAJobs can present unexpected barriers for students who are applying for the first time. Candidates must select from long lists of very specific criteria. If even one option isn’t selected correctly, an application may not be reviewed or reach the intended recruiter. 

“Jessica is such a great resource. We were lucky to have her walk us through the application process. Bringing in guest speakers who spend the time to review all the details and answer questions is more useful for our members than an email with simply an application link,” said Wiggins.  

Brueggeman also provides a direct connection for internships and co-op opportunities through the Air Force.  

“Women in Flight has a great mission that supports diversity and inclusion within the aerospace field,” said Brueggemann. “The group offers valuable information and resources, from myself as well as other professionals and alumnae, including co-op opportunities and things to consider when making future career decisions.” 

Wiggins hopes the insight from Brueggeman and others inspire members to explore previously unknown pathways and educate themselves on how to advance their careers.  

“This group prides itself on supporting woman in the aerospace and aviation field, connecting them with people who are specifically looking to recruit diverse candidates,” said Wiggins. 

Women in Flight welcomes all UC students to become members and participate in events.

Supporting women in STEM

UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science is committed to shaping tomorrow through inclusive excellence, one of the pathways of the university's Next Lives Here strategic direction. Learn more about how the college's Office of Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement works to instill a sense of belonging in our community.

For more information on Women in Flight or to volunteer as a guest speaker, visit their website

Featured image at top: Earth and a satellite in orbit. Photo/NASA/Unsplash.