Q&A with Angel Agrawal, MS '24

5/30/2024 Debra Levey Larson

Written by Debra Levey Larson


Angel Agrawal

from Mumbai, India 
BS '22, in mechanical engineering from NMIMS Mukesh Patel School of Technology Management and Engineering
 MS '24, Illinois

Interviewed by Debra Levey Larson

What made you want to get an advanced degree?

My passion for aerospace technology and the desire to specialize in this field motivated me to pursue a master's degree. The University of Illinois program allowed me to dive deep into systems engineering for aerospace applications through projects like the Mars Habitat Module Design. Beyond academics, the graduate experience provided invaluable industry exposure and networking opportunities. With my specialized skills in areas such as model-based systems engineering and expertise in aerospace design tools, I am now well-equipped to tackle complex challenges and drive innovation in this exciting domain.

Why study at Illinois

The University of Illinois stood out for its renowned aerospace engineering program and cutting-edge research facilities. The curriculum's specialization in systems engineering perfectly aligned with my goal of gaining expertise in designing and analyzing complex aerospace systems. Additionally, the opportunity to work on ambitious projects like the Next-Gen Mars Habitat Module and the Ship-to-Shore Drone Delivery System allowed me to apply theoretical concepts to real-world challenges. The university's strong industry connections and esteemed faculty made it an ideal choice to advance my aerospace knowledge and prepare me for a rewarding career in this dynamic field.

What helped you choose your specialty?

Ever since I was little, I've dreamed of being an astronaut and exploring space. To get closer to that dream, I started by studying mechanical engineering. It taught me the basics of how things are built and work, which is important for understanding space technology. Then, I moved on to aerospace engineering to learn more about how rockets and satellites are designed and function. Each step in my studies has been about following my dream to one day travel beyond Earth and see what's out there.

Angel Agrawal posing with the Alma Mater
Angel Agrawal posing with the Alma Mater

Did you have any internships? 

Yes, during my graduate program, I had the opportunity to intern back in India as a systems engineer at Shree Tirupati Balajee Ltd. My role involved working on optimizing systems to improve efficiency and productivity. It was an invaluable experience that allowed me to apply theoretical knowledge in a practical setting and gain a deeper understanding of engineering systems in a real-world context.

You chose a non-thesis option, right?

Right, I didn't have a specific thesis or research project. Instead, my program focused more on coursework and practical applications, which suited my goals and learning style better. This approach allowed me to gain a broad range of skills and knowledge that are directly applicable to real-world problems in aerospace engineering.

What were some of  the unusual challenges you experienced along the way?

During my studies, I faced several unique challenges, such as adapting to a new, immersive learning style that was very different from the theoretical approach I grew up with. Tackling a course in Finite Element Analysis was particularly tough, demanding a deep integration of theory and practice. Additionally, working part-time while studying was challenging but incredibly beneficial. It not only supported me financially but also honed my time management skills and resilience, profoundly shaping my personal and professional growth.

 What did you do when you weren't studying?

I actively engaged in a variety of clubs and events that enriched my personal and professional life. I joined clubs focused on space and engineering to connect with peers who share my interests and to learn from their experiences. Attending meetings of "Women in Space" was particularly inspiring, providing a platform to meet role models and discuss the unique challenges and opportunities for women in the aerospace field. Additionally, living in the Champaign area offered plenty of local activities, from cultural events to outdoor adventures, allowing me to unwind and enjoy diverse experiences. These activities not only offered relaxation and fun but also broadened my perspectives and contributed to my personal growth.

Will you go on for a PhD?

At this stage, I'm keeping an open mind about pursuing another graduate degree. My immediate focus is to gain valuable industry experience and apply the knowledge I've acquired. Working in the aerospace field will allow me to further hone my skills and better understand the practical challenges that companies face.

However, I'm also deeply passionate about space technology, and the idea of building my own startup in this domain is incredibly exciting. An entrepreneurial venture would provide the opportunity to innovate and drive advancements in space exploration. Whether through industry experience or an entrepreneurial path, I aim to continually expand my horizons and contribute to pushing the boundaries of aerospace engineering.

I've got a few job prospects lined up, which is exciting. But I'm at a crossroads, trying to decide if I want to dive into working for a company or if I want to channel my passion and skills into starting my own space tech startup. It's a big decision to make because each path offers different experiences and opportunities to contribute to the field of aerospace. Whether it's joining an established team or building my own from the ground up, I'm looking forward to shaping the future of space technology

Angel Agrawal on the main quad with Foellinger Auditorium behind her
Angel Agrawal on the main quad with Foellinger Auditorium behind her

What's on your bucket list for the next five years?

In the next five years, I've got some pretty exciting things I want to do. First up, I'm planning to learn how to fly a plane and get my pilot's license. I’ve always been thrilled by the idea of piloting an aircraft myself. Then, I'm going to learn to SCUBA dive because exploring underwater is like discovering a whole new world.

I also want to study for the astronaut exam. It's a big goal, but it's been my dream for as long as I can remember. And, of course, I want to travel more, see new places, meet different people, and just really enjoy life to its fullest. Each of these experiences is a step in living out the adventures I've always imagined.

 Do you have any other career goals?

Absolutely, I have a few other career goals beyond just becoming an astronaut. I'm keen on making a significant impact in the field of space technology, possibly by innovating within a company or even starting my own. Another thing that's close to my heart is education—I'd love to mentor young engineers and enthusiasts who are as passionate about space as I am. It’s about making a difference, not just in space, but also here on Earth by inspiring and guiding future generations.

What advice would you give your younger self getting an advanced degree? 

If I could give my past self some advice as I was about to start grad school, it would be this: Take the time to really talk with your classmates and professors. They can help you pick the courses that will get you where you want to go. Definitely don’t miss out on visiting your professors during office hours. They’re a gold mine of knowledge and can provide you with support that goes beyond the classroom.

And one more thing – grad school is a marathon, not a sprint. It's going to be exhausting and intense, but it's important to remember to step back sometimes. Give yourself permission to relax, have fun, and enjoy the journey. Taking breaks isn't just about resting; it's about giving yourself the space to thrive academically.

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This story was published May 30, 2024.