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Harriet Hunt perseveres, receives 2021 Brooke Owens Fellowship


Debra Levey Larson

Harriet Hunt
Harriet Hunt

Perseverance paid off for AE undergraduate Harriet Hunt. She applied for a Brooke Owens Fellowship after both her freshman and sophomore years and was not selected. This year, her third time applying, she is one of 44 undergraduate women selected.

According to the Brooke Owens website, this fifth year of the program was the most competitive ever. There were more than 800 applicants this year from universities all over the world.

As a “Brookie,” Hunt will be paired with a senior or executive-level mentor and will have a paid summer internship at Northrop Space Systems.

The application process for this fellowship is extensive, including several essays. In one, Hunt responded to the question: In what specific way do you want your work in the aerospace community to make life better for others? She said, “have had to climb many mountains to get where I am today, but every one of these ‘mountains’ has been an opportunity for me to grow. This is what I want my work in the community to reflect. I hope to be a role model to young girls and show them that it does not take a miracle to become a successful woman in STEM, it just takes dedication. If there were more role models who are open about being how imperfect they are then I believe younger girls would feel more comfortable pursuing their passions.”

So far during her college career at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Hunt has been a teaching assistant in three classes in the Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering and served as an undergraduate research assistant in Zach Putnam’s AE research group. Over the summer of 2019, she was a space launch system software test and verification intern at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Last summer, she was a software engineering intern at Collins Aerospace.

Hunt is an active member of Illinois Space Society, a registered student organization at UIUC. She was the detection sub-team lead for NASA Micro-g NExT. She led the team in developing a main component of a tool to detect sharp edges on International Space Station handrails. She spoke at the International Astronautical Congress and won first place in the student conference.

According to the Brooke Owens Fellowship website, women who are enrolled in a college, university, or community may apply for a paid summer internship. Although any major or concentration is acceptable, applicants who are pursuing a full-time career in the aviation or aerospace industry are more often selected. The program is designed to be an on-ramp into the industry for talented women, regardless of their background.

The Brooke Owens Fellowship Program was founded by Lori Garver, Cassie Kloberdanz Lee, and William Pomerantz to honor their friend who passed away in 2016 at age 35 from cancer. Owens was an alumna of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the International Space University. Professionally, she worked at the NASA's Johnson Space Center, the non-profit XPRIZE Foundation, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, and the White House Office of Management and Budget.