Maggie Stewart

B.S.A.E. 2022

What is your next adventure?

In March, I will be starting at NASA JPL with the Spacecraft Mechanical Engineering Group doing mechatronics for the descent landing of the Mars sample return mission. But before that, I’ll be taking a vacation to Europe where I plan on spending time with friends and family. 

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

The sample return mission is such a great cornerstone mission for JPL, with so many moving parts, I’m really excited to even play a small role in that. I’m looking forward to working on flight hardware that’s going to Mars. But beyond the sample return mission, I hope to continue working at JPL with other robotic missions to who knows where, it could be Europa or Enceladus or asteroids, or even Venus. Really, the sky's the limit there...pun intended.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

I interned at Lockheed Martin in Summer 2020 and Summer 2021 as a propulsion engineer where I did component analysis, or development of valves and latches, and a little bit of engine, thermal anomaly analysis. It was really a great survey of the whole arena of propulsion. During the spring of 2021 I interned at NASA JPL where I worked on ground support equipment for Europa Clipper. I was also there when Perseverance landed, which was absolutely incredible to see. That experience was super helpful in seeing how the workplace of an engineering department works.

This past summer I interned at Aerospace Corporation where I conducted propulsion science for methane-based fuels. Kind of determining and characterizing the carbon deposition that occurs when you heat the fuel in regenerative cooling channels. It can often decompose into carbon, and then set up the inside of the channel. It's like cholesterol in your veins, you don't want that carbon buildup inside those channels either.

I did research with Dr. Walker in the High-Power Electric Propulsion Lab (HPEPL), mostly working with Naia Butler-Craig on building up a cathode to validate results seen by the University of Michigan. Later, I gained solid propulsion experience with GTXR and machining experience in the Machine Shop. The knowledge I’ve learned there is priceless. Knowing the tools you have access to and how they’re going to impact your design is super important. A lot of engineers don’t really have that knowledge, so I wish everyone could learn how to machine in the same way that I have.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

The hands-on experience that Tech offers is great and one of the biggest things that set me apart in my interviews for a full-time job in aerospace. I had a variety of experience from working in the AE Machine Shop, GT Experimental Rocketry, mixed with my classwork and projects.  I think it makes the learning of engineering more concrete when you actually have a physical thing you’re doing. That experience is incredibly valuable.

I think the soft skills I learned along the way contributed too. Being the president of GTXR really helped in learning how to communicate with people and lead a team, which is not easy, especially when you have to make difficult decisions, even difficult decisions about your own designs and your own projects.  But that's what shaped me.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

Always be curious. Be open to learning from everyone around you. Georgia Tech is incredible, because there are so many smart people here. I think ultimately, you should never be the smartest one in the room, and if you are, find another room. The AE School has so much to offer that I’d encourage students to listen and soak it in like a sponge, even if you don’t fully understand it.

You never know when an opportunity is going to come around. For me, when I got the JPL interview, I wasn’t really looking for a job because I was already interning, but I was at the career fair and thought “I’ll go and practice my interview and networking skills - and see what happens”. That initial talk with a recruiter turned into an internship with JPL and now a full-time job.

Challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. I could have very easily been comfortable at my internship and let opportunities pass by, but I got out of my comfort zone and new opportunities opened up for me.