Do not let fear stop you from doing what you want to do.
This semester we are introducing a Q&A style profile series to highlight a few of our aerospace engineering students and share their inspirations, aspirations, and motivations.
This month, meet aerospace engineering senior, Hailu Daniel, from Olney, Maryland.
Why did you choose to study Aerospace Engineering?
For a long time, space has been a strong interest of mine. However, it was not until high school that I discovered this major. I was fortunate enough to take an aerospace engineering class during my senior year, further increasing my interest. Out of all of the engineering majors, this is the one I feel the most connected to. At the time I could not pinpoint the exact reason for the connection. It was a “gut feeling.”
People warned me about how difficult the major would be, but I never let that stop me from pursuing the major. I saw the challenge as a learning opportunity that would showcase my true feelings for the major.
Before college, I saw the possibility of using my major to send people into space, build satellites, discover the universe’s unknowns, or even become an astronaut, and that is what motivated me to study the major.
Why did you choose to come to the University of Maryland for Aerospace Engineering?
While growing up, I dealt with dysarthria due to the improper development of my speech muscles. Doctors also called it a “lazy tongue,” where I often had trouble pronouncing my words or would slur them together, so it was challenging to communicate when I was young.
I underwent speech therapy during elementary school, and attended classes both during school and outside of school. It was a rough process, and at times, I felt like I was not making progress. One day, my parents tried something different, and they signed me up for speech classes at the University of Maryland Hearing and Speech Clinic.
I spent about two years in the program and became a completely different person. My speech had significantly improved due to the curriculum, and my parents were impressed with the program and the students who ran it.
Since then, I knew I wanted to go to UMD. During high school, I learned about the impressive aerospace engineering program that the school offers, and as an in-state student, I knew this was the school for me.
What student groups or clubs are you a part of, if any, and what do enjoy about them?
The Terrapin Rocket Team has been my main focus for some time. The Terrapin Rocket Team is a collegiate high-power rocket team that competes in the annual Spaceport America Cup (SAC), which is considered the world’s largest rocket competition as college teams across the world come together in New Mexico to launch rockets.
TerpRockets has come a long way since I joined the team. At SAC 2023, we placed 5th out of 119 teams. Like many student groups, COVID affected our team. In Fall 2021, I joined the team as a subteam lead because I wanted to be a part of a rocket team. Industry professionals encouraged me to join an engineering team to gain valuable hands-on experience, and joining TerpRockets was the best decision of my life. The knowledge I have gained, the people I have worked with, and the challenges I have faced have all made me a better engineer, leader, and individual. The work never feels like work.
Theta Tau and UMD’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) are the two groups I lean on for professional development and social events. Theta Tau is a professional co-ed engineering fraternity whose pillars are service, professionalism, and brotherhood. I joined Theta Tau because of the people. During the rush events, everyone spoke highly of each other. They help each other through academics, professional development, and personal situations. They also know how to relax and encourage a good work-life balance. Work-life balance is an imperative skill that I learned from Theta Tau. I joined NSBE for a similar reason. What’s special about NSBE is the focus on developing a safe and supportive community for black engineers.
Sharing our personal stories and fighting to create change have been the most exciting parts of my time with the club.
What are your post-graduation plans?
My mission is to help build rockets that send humans into space and transport payloads that collect valuable information for the benefit of Earth. I want to create a world where we continue to have a strong presence in space. To succeed in the space industry, having hands-on experience early in your career will positively impact your career. Three areas of interest are test engineering, systems engineering, and mission operations. These jobs provide an opportunity for growth and challenging problems to solve. Meanwhile, I want to assist non-profit organizations that advance STEM education and support diversity in the aerospace industry.
What advice would you offer others who might be interested in pursuing aerospace engineering?
Do not let fear stop you from doing what you want to do.
If you have some type of interest in aerospace engineering, then try it out. If you realize the major may not be for you, switch out. During your time at college, there’s pressure to figure out what you want to do with your life. However, this will not be done in 4-5 years.
Your objective and goals may drastically change within that time frame, and that’s okay. That is a part of the learning process. College is your best time to try new things without much loss. It is the best time to learn about what you like and do not like. And the best way to learn is by doing. If you want to try aerospace engineering, also do projects related to the field. Go all the way in. If the classes and engineering projects don’t interest you, that’s a valuable learning opportunity. It means you are on the right track.
As a high school student, I applied to UMD for the aerospace engineering program. Unfortunately, neither happened. For 2-3 years, I made an effort to prepare myself for the college application. I took classes that matched the 4-year aerospace engineering plan, I took on leadership roles and performed my best in the classroom. Yet, none of that seemed to matter at the moment. It seemed like all of my previous efforts were meaningless.
For the first time in my life, I was unsure what the future would be like. A couple of weeks later, I was accepted into the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for mechanical engineering. The school did not offer aerospace engineering, but mechanical engineering seemed like the next best thing. When I started my freshman year, I managed to walk on the D1 Track and Field Varsity Team, and I had the unique opportunity to be a student-athlete. On paper, everything was going well. However, I was not internally satisfied with my situation. My heart yearned for UMD and aerospace engineering, so when the transfer application opened in the spring semester, I submitted my application. In April 2020, at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I received a letter of acceptance from UMD.
I took a huge risk leaving UMBC and the track team for a major that I knew nothing about. However, I knew in my heart that I needed to find out firsthand if I wanted to be an aerospace engineer by studying the major. It’s been a challenging few years, but I have never regretted my decision!