Niya Hope-Glenn, a 2020 Schenectady High School graduate now attending Howard University, earned a spot in a new scholarship program looking to encourage more Black students to pursue careers in aerospace.
Hope-Glenn, who has been studying at one of the country’s most prestigious historically-Black universities remotely from Schenectady, joined about 40 other students across the country in the inaugural class of the new Patti Grace Smith Fellowship.
The fellowship includes a paid summer internship in the aerospace industry, a mentorship program and a $2,000 grant to use for academic expenses.
When Hope-Glenn started out as a freshman at Schenectady High School, she wanted to pursue a career in cosmetology. But after a science teacher encouraged her to pursue her scientific interests, Hope-Glenn discovered a passion for chemistry and engineering. Just a few years later, she is set to complete an internship at a company that has consulted on the recent Mars mission and other space travel.
“I feel like ninth-grade me would be very proud of me now — that I expanded my horizons,” she said.
Hope-Glenn said she isn’t sure what she ultimately wants to do with a chemical engineering degree, but she said she likes the wide variety of topics the field applies to, and she plans to take advantage of different internships and research opportunities as she hones in on her particular interests.
“Chemical engineers can basically do anything and go into different fields, so I’m taking advantage of that,” she said.
The new scholarship program — which is named for Patti Grace, who rose to the top levels of the Federal Aviation Administration and played a key role in enabling personal space travel — aims to give Black students an opening into the competitive aerospace industry with internships opportunities early in their academic career.
“We know the students are out there, we know they are interested, we know they are bright, and for lots of reasons they are just not connecting with these jobs,” said Will Pomerantz, one of the four founders of the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, which was modeled on a similar scholarship program.
The fellowship pairs up the participants with two mentors — someone still in the early stages of their career and and someone with executive-level experience — and gives the students a chance to interact as a group.
“It was just comforting to see other faces that look like mine, Black faces, pursuing careers in aerospace – not only comforting, I felt very proud of all of us,” Hope-Glenn said of a virtual meeting with the whole cohort of new fellows.
She added: “One of the founders was a literal astronaut.”
Hope-Glenn earned an internship with Seattle-based engineering firm First Mode, which focuses on design, engineering and production of technologies used in industries both on Earth and in space. Hope-Glenn said she was interested in working on some of the company’s renewable energy technologies and getting an opportunity to see how a team of scientists and engineers approaches different problems — especially after a year spent learning remotely.
“‘Yes, we help different companies get to space, but that’s not all we do,’” she recalled the company’s president telling her.
The company in a statement said it wanted to participate in the fellowship program to open the door to Black students interested in learning more about aerospace engineering.
“Many of us at First Mode started our careers with formative experiences during college, and we want to do our part to give others a similar opportunity,” Elizabeth Frank, a First Mode senior applied planetary scientist and chair of the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee, said. “This is particularly critical for those from underrepresented backgrounds in aerospace, who may not have the network to get their foot in the door.”
In offering advice to current Schenectady students, Hope-Glenn said younger students should be willing to take advantage of different programs, fellowships and other opportunities. She participated in a summer scholars program at Union College, leading to relationships with people there who helped encourage her to attend a historically-Black university and wrote recommendation letters for the fellowship.
“Even if it’s something you don’t want to take advantage of, you never know how it’s going to turn out,” she said.