Eyes on the Skies – One Engineer’s Journey from Art to Aerospace
By Aerion Supersonic on Nov 07, 2019
3 min read
For the average passenger, airplanes take off, cruise at high speeds and elevation, and land in a different city. It’s a means of getting from point A to point B, with friends and family waiting at the carousel. For me, planes sparked a curiosity. I’ve always sat in the window seat, thinking: How do they fly? It is that curiosity that led me to a career in aerospace engineering.
My name is Michelle Suen; I am one of the aerospace engineers here at Aerion Supersonic. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace, aeronautical and astronautical engineering, I realized there was more I wanted to learn before beginning my career, so I went on to receive my master’s in the same field from Stanford University. How did I realize that a career in aerospace engineering was for me? Mainly, through processes of elimination and persistent curiosity.
From an early age, I have been passionate about art, which grew into a passion for art and science, and the ways the two subjects are intertwined. I have always considered art a creative outlet, and I’ve applied that creativity to engineering, where aesthetics are key. When I began looking at my career options, I wanted to consider everything. So, my brother took me on a tour of a local airplane facility where he was working. In that moment, when I saw how all the pieces of an aircraft came together, I knew a career in aerospace was for me.
As I pursued my bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in aerospace, I noticed that I was often the only woman in classes of 60 or more. It didn’t bother me at first. However, as my career evolved, I realized that the lack of female representation in STEM fields was a bigger problem than I’d originally thought. For example, I saw a confidence gap between my male and female peers. While women would often limit themselves only to jobs for which they had all the qualifications – or were even overqualified, men would apply to any job, even ones they were not necessarily qualified for.
This problem is a tangible one, according to the National Girls Collaborative Program. According to their statistics, women constitute almost 50 percent of the labor market, but STEM fields are composed of 72 percent male workers, and just 27 percent female. This gap doesn’t start in the workforce, however. According to the same statistics, in college, just 19 percent of students majoring in engineering are women.
As I began to notice gender disparity in my field, I took it upon myself to encourage younger women to pursue STEM through my involvement with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). I understand that there are societal barriers hindering young women from pursuing STEM careers, and I’m working to combat them. My advice to young women and girls considering a career in STEM and engineering? You never know what you might like until you experience it. So, in school, try different classes to see where your passions lie. And, I recommend the same strategy for entering the workforce: Try a variety of internships to see what companies you want to work for and the type of work you want to be doing. Always remain curious about how things work, just like me: Because I still think about how planes stay in the sky every time I fly, even though I now know the answer.