Sibley sophomore wins Brooke Owens Fellowship

Nidhi Sonwalkar, a sophomore in Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has been selected as a 2023 Brooke Owens Fellow.

Sonwalkar joins 46 undergraduates from around the world chosen for recognition by the nationally-acclaimed nonprofit program.

Sonwalkar, who is Integration and Test lead of the Cislunar Explorers CubeSat research team in Cornell’s Space Systems Design Studio, a member of the Cornell Mars Rover student project team, an intern at NASA Goddard’s Direct Readout Laboratory, and a John McMullen Dean’s Scholar, will receive an aerospace internship, senior mentorship, and access to a lifelong professional network that now numbers close to 300 former and current “Brookie” Fellows.

Brooke Owens was a pilot and space policy expert who died in 2016 at the age of 35. The eponymous fellowship was started in 2017 to honor the good work done by Owens in her career at NASA, the FAA, and the White House.

Nidhi SonwalkarSonwalkar said she was waiting in the car while picking up her younger brother at school back in December when her phone rang. She answered and learned the good news that she had been chosen for the competitive fellowship which, in Sonwalkar’s case, comes with a summer internship at a Northrup Grumman design facility in Virginia.

Sonwalkar has been intrigued by space since she was young. It started with an interest in the stars and astronomy, which grew into the wish to go to space. “And as I started taking more math and physics classes,” Sonwalkar said, “I started to get very interested in the applications side of the equation—how to design and build things to get us into space.”

This interest led her to Cornell, where there are many options to follow her curiosity and deepen her knowledge about the mechanics and astronautical engineering aspects of space travel.

Mason Peck, (the Stephen J. Fujikawa ’77 Professor of Astronautical Engineering at Cornell) started the school’s Space Systems Design Studio where Sonwalkar now spends much of her time. He spent several years as NASA’s Chief Technologist and knows a thing or two about working in the space industry.

“It can be difficult to know where to begin one’s career in the large aerospace ecosystem of the U.S. These experiences help students start their career with their eyes open to the possibilities,” Peck said. “Cornell aerospace students are likely to receive job offers even without this background, since the aerospace job market has been quite hot for several years. However, there are some truly extraordinary job opportunities in space these days, and having had these fellowship experiences ultimately makes students more competitive in getting those jobs—the ones they will find fulfilling.”

You can learn more about the Brooke Owens Fellowship here.


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