Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics Celebrates Five Years

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The five-year anniversary celebration of Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics (WIAA) brought smiles to attendees and a positive outlook for the future of the group.

Hosted on October 29, 2019, during the group’s annual WIAA Night, the celebration highlighted the organization’s accomplishments and included all past presidents, many former board members, and representatives from the aerospace engineering industry including Northrop Grumman Corporation, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, NASA Goddard and Aurora Flight Sciences.

The keynote speaker for the evening was Ruth Bishop, Vice President of the eastern region for Northrop Grumman. She thanked WIAA for “challenging the status quo,” of the aerospace industry, that is composed of a majority of male workers. 

WIAA was established five years ago in part to help with the retention rates of female students in the major, but became a dynamic force in supporting women across aerospace engineering through leadership opportunities, technical and professional development, networking, outreach, and advocacy.

At the time of its creation, about 13% of incoming first-year aerospace engineering students identified as female. In just five years, that number has risen to 25%. A success metric that Dr. Alison Flatau, the founding faculty member of WIAA, is very proud of.

“My initial expectations for WIAA was that students would be inspired and not leave the field,” said Flatau. “That they would feel like they had a home within the field and that it would help with retention in the department.”

Not only has WIAA accomplished what Flatau set out to do by inspiring women to stay in the industry, but the organization has started to reach out to local high schools to educate young women about the possibilities of a career in aerospace engineering.

WIAA Day is an annual event held each spring where young women and men in high school participate in workshops that help them explore areas of engineering and might lead them to considering a career in aerospace engineering. The importance of this event is getting more young women to think of aerospace engineering as a possible career path.

Current president of WIAA and aerospace engineering senior, Julia Mittelstaedt, says that she became interested in engineering during her time in high school through programs similar to WIAA Day. Her drive to promote women in engineering carried over into her freshman year at UMD and led her to join WIAA.

“Everything that WIAA stands for and what WIAA is was something I wanted to be a part of and it really spoke to me,” says Mittelstaedt. “WIAA’s future is going to do nothing but soar with the momentum and all the things we have accomplished in the past five years.”

By: Jacob Rousseau

Published November 6, 2019