Reaching for the Stars

06 September 2022

UC Mechanical Engineering student Jennifer Berry provides insight into her experience with the prestigious Brookes Owens Fellowship

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Last January, an article was published highlighting UC Mechanical Engineering student Jennifer Berry’s acceptance into the prestigious Brooke Owens Fellowship. Participants, or Brookies as they are referred to colloquially, are selected for the fellowship and brought together for a week-long summit in Washington D.C. Representatives from all facets of the aerospace industry assemble with like-minded individuals to inspire change in a traditionally male-dominated field. Following Jennifer’s recent participation in the fellowship, we had the chance to discuss her time overseas and get an impression of the summit.    

It is an incredible accomplishment to be selected for such a prize; as Jennifer recalls, “Acceptance into the fellowship brings lifelong access to the community and network, including curated resources for university, career, and just general life advice, so I’m extremely grateful. This experience has allowed me to return to NZ empowered to work to improve the space industry here, to make my home more inclusive so that other girls and gender minorities here can experience that same feeling I did on the other side of the world.”   

A focal point for this fellowship is to assist in bridging connections with leaders of the aerospace community, such as meeting former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, a highlight for Jennifer. A further benefit for Brookies is being partnered with a mentor in the aerospace field to help gain one-on-one insight and knowledge into a particular sector. This year, Jennifer partnered with Debra Facktor, the Head of U.S. Space Systems for Airbus U.S. Space & Defense. Jennifer recounts, “She [Debra Facktor] is just an all-around incredible woman and brings an unreal amount of experience and knowledge as well as shows genuine care and compassion.”   

Much of the summit involves Brookies interacting with other recipients and participating in collaborative projects with industry leaders.  

“I had the privilege of working for Space Capital, an aerospace venture capital fund in New York, where I completed research into emerging space industries with a focus on Space-Based Energy Generation and Storage. This included everything from fuel depots in space to space-based solar power. It was incredible to research this from engineering feasibility and market perspectives. It challenged me to think beyond a typical mechanical task, and I hope to weave learnings from this exposure into future engineering tasks to add an extra dimension to my work.”   

Upon reflecting on the summit and looking forward to the future, Jennifer says that this experience “made me realise how much is out there and empowered me to reconsider pathways I didn’t think were possible for me...I’ve become somewhat captivated by the overlap of space and environmental sustainability, and I hope to work on innovations unlocking the synergistic power of both.”   

Whichever direction Jennifer decides to progress in, we have no doubts she will be an upstanding representative of UC and a continuing inspiration to women and gender minorities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, and the international community. We wish the best to Jennifer in her future work and look forward to her impact on the aerospace industry.  

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