From First-Years to Fellows: Meet the Inaugural Patti Grace Fellows from Georgia Tech, from left, Kojo Bekoe-Sakyi, Ciarra Ortiz, Jesudunsin Awodele, Jovanna Patterson, and Kailen De Saussure.
The Patti Grace Smith Fellowship recently announced its inaugural class of 43 fellows, including three aerospace engineering students from Georgia Tech. The fellowship was awarded to Jesudunsin Awodele (AE, 2023), Kojo Bekoe-Sakyi (AE, 2023), Kailen De Saussure (AE, 2023), Ciarra Ortiz (BME, 2023), and Jovanna Patterson (ME, 2024).
The fellowship focuses on addressing discrimination in the aerospace industry by providing first and second-year Black undergraduate students with experience and guidance early on in their collegiate careers. As a part of the fellowship, each student receives an internship at one of the nation’s top aerospace firms with a living wage, two personal mentors, and a grant of approximately $2,000.
When Awodele first learned about the fellowship, he knew that he had to take the chance to try and be a part of something historic, especially after learning that the fellowship was in its first year.
“My first semester at Georgia Tech was an eye-opening experience where I struggled through academic rigor that I had never experienced before,” said Jesudunsin Awodele. “Fast forward just one year later, and I could not have imagined that I would be considered a finalist for a fellowship and be able to interview with some of the largest aerospace companies in the world [Boeing].”
For other fellows like Bekoe-Sakyi, the aerospace program at Georgia Tech played a large role in deciding to apply for the fellowship.
“I have dreamed of becoming an aerospace engineer since I was six years-old, and now I'm doing it!” said Kojo Bekoe-Sakyi. “The School has really given me a good amount of exposure to the different disciplines of aerospace engineering and helped me get a better grasp of what concentration I am interested in pursuing in the industry and more specifically for this fellowship.”
The California native will spend his summer interning at Airbus U.S. Defense and Space.
For aerospace engineering student Kailen De Saussure, he is most excited to have the opportunity to gain his first work-related experience. Specifically, “I am really excited to interact more with the other fellows, expand my network, and gain more skills,” De Saussure said.
He will be getting that experience in a few months with General Dynamics Mission Systems.
The PGS Fellowship draws from its sister programs, the Brooke Owens Fellowship, which provides internships and mentorship to undergraduate women and gender minority students in aerospace, and the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program, which provides spaceflight internships and mentorship to college juniors, seniors and graduate students.
“I applied to the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship because there is a lack of Black representation in the aerospace industry,” said biomedical engineering student Ciarra Ortiz. “I saw it as an opportunity to be a part of a community of driven Black individuals working towards the common goal of making a name for themselves in the aerospace industry with the guidance of accomplished mentors.”
The creation of the PGS Fellowship was prompted by the national upheaval around social justice and racial equality in the summer of 2020. The events surrounding George Floyd’s death urged the PGS founders to examine the state of diversity, inclusion and equity within the aerospace industry. Their desire to eliminate racial barriers in the industry led to the creation of the new fellowship.
“The fact that the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship has created an opportunity to help Black STEM students means a lot to me. I have a vested interest in robots and space, and the fellowship found an internship for me that is a wonderful combination of both. From this internship, I hope to gain invaluable engineering skills and network with influential people that will solidify my place in the aerospace industry,” said Patterson.
This summer, the five Tech Fellows will be working at a variety of companies ranging from Boeing to General Dynamics Mission Systems, Airbus U.S. Defense and Space, Venturi Astrolab, and the MIT Space Exploration Initiative.