Aerospace engineering undergraduate joins inaugural Patti Grace Smith class

Mya Guillaume is one of 43 Black students selected from across the nation


By Ashley J. WennersHerron

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The memory of Patti Grace Smith, a teen plaintiff in a United States Supreme Court case that resulted in the desegregation of Alabama schools who would later become head of Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, is continuing to inspire the next generation of aerospace pioneers. The Patti Grace Smith Fellowship program selected 43 Black undergraduate students for its inaugural class, including Penn State aerospace engineering student Mya Guillaume.

“I’m so honored to be a Patti Grace Smith Fellow,” said Guillaume, a second-year student from East Stroudsburg. “She was an incredible person who changed things for the better. To be included in this class, it feels like an accomplishment. It feels like a step forward, especially after this year with the pandemic.”

The fellowship program, open to first- and second-year students across all disciplines with an interest in aerospace, provides undergraduates with their first work experience in the aerospace industry. Each fellow interviews with five companies and is matched with one for a paid summer internship. Guillaume will intern with Maxar as an assistant engineer.

“I grew up going to airshows and knew I wanted to help get people to space,” Guillaume said. “Now, I’ll spend my summer helping build rockets.”

As a first-year student, Guillaume joined the College of Engineering’s Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP) and participated in multiple events, including the Multicultural Engineering Program Orientation. Since then, she has become a student leader in the program and credits her Penn State network with alerting her to the fellowship in the first place. Her network will grow as the fellowship pairs each participant with two personal mentors to help guide them and continue making professional connections.

“Mya is exceptional,” said Lauren Griggs, director of MEP. “She not only excels academically, but she is also passionate about the field and an enthusiastic champion for her fellow students. This fellowship will serve as a steppingstone for her to achieve even greater things.”

The fellowship was founded by Col. B. Alvin Drew Jr., the U.S. Department of Defense liaison for NASA; Khristian Jones, a senior majoring in aerospace engineering at Wichita State University; Tiffany Russell Lockett, the Mars Ascent Vehicle Assembly, Integration and Test Lead at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center; and Will Pomerantz, vice president for special projects at Virgin Orbit.

“The Patti Grace Smith Fellowship exists to serve extraordinarily talented students who possess everything that is needed to thrive in aerospace, but who come from a community where talent has long been overlooked by our industry,” said Drew, a two-time space shuttle astronaut, in the program’s announcement of the inaugural class. “These new Patti Grace Smith Fellows inspire us with their drive, their intellect, their work ethic, and their deep commitment to advancing the state of the aerospace industry — not only in terms of our science and engineering, but also in terms of how we cultivate and honor talent in our workforce. The level of interest we received from applicants, and the caliber of the students who’ve made it through three intense rounds of selection show beyond a shadow of a doubt the incredible impact that Black excellence can, has and will make in aerospace.”


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Megan Lakatos

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