Chy-Amari Finley's passion for flying, in air and space

5/9/2023 Katelin Chong

Written by Katelin Chong

Chy-Amari Finley’s
Chy-Amari Finley

After attending numerous aerospace conferences throughout high school and earning her pilot’s license, AE first-year student Chy-Amari Finley chose to continue her passion for both flight and space at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“I wanted to pick a good school for aerospace engineering — it’s been something that I’ve been set on for quite a while,” Finley said. “When I was looking at colleges, I compared the programs offered to undergraduate students, especially research. I looked a lot into the rocketry teams here, too, because I built rockets all through high school.”

Finley’s interest with flight started when she was just a child.

“I wanted to know how things flew, whether it be within this atmosphere or outside. It started with planes, just looking up and wondering, ‘How does a plane just not fall out of the sky?’” she said. “The interest grew as I got deeper into math and science. I started to understand how it was all possible.”

Chy-Amari Finley in flight
Chy-Amari Finley in flight

Although she wants to pursue a career in the space industry, Finley plans to keep flying.

“I want to work with human space flight, but I think flying is always going to be a part of my life,” she said. “I encounter a lot of pilots who've been pilots for decades, and I want to get to that point to say that I've been like a pilot for like 40 years. That's pretty cool.”

Finley has been working with Tuskegee Airmen — a flight academy — since high school, where she first started building rockets. Now, she is enrolled in another flight program with them to complete ground school.

“I wanted to build rockets, and they had a high school rocketry program,” Finley said. “The builds took place in an airport hangar, so I would see the planes every single day.”

After meeting with AE Department Head Jonathan Freund, Finley said he recommended that she start doing research this year and he would advise her.

AE Department Head Jonathan Freund meeting with Chy-Amari Finley about her research.
AE Department Head Jonathan Freund meeting with Chy-Amari Finley about her research project.

“We’re researching bone loss when people go to space,” Finley said. “That deals with human anatomy and physiology, which are my other interests,” she said. “I wanted to combine my interests in flight and people.”

Doing research her first year at Illinois has also helped Finley with her schoolwork, as it has allowed her to get a head start learning the content in some of her classes.

“My research has helped me quite a bit this past semester, especially in my math class, because of the calculations that I have to do,” she said. “Sometimes I deal with some numerical analysis, which is pretty helpful for the calculus classes that I have to take while I’m here.”

In the future, Finley is eager to take more classes here at UIUC that feed into her interest in aerospace engineering and flight.

“Next year, I’m looking forward to taking flight mechanics because it covers both aircraft and spacecraft,” she said. “I think that'd be a cool class to take.”


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This story was published May 9, 2023.