From First-Years to Fellows. Meet the newest Patti Grace Fellows from the AE School (from left) Jalen Cauley, Justin Connors, and Suraya John. Read about the inagural class of Yellow Jackets.
Three Daniel Guggenheim School students have been selected for the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, which pairs Black undergraduate students with the nation’s leading aerospace companies. Jalen Cauley (AE ’25), Justin Connors (AE ’25), and Suraya John (AE ’25) are among the 39 national honorees from 26 institutions. The fellowship also welcomes fellow Yellow Jackets, Justin Pemberton (ME ’25), and Kay Perkins (PubP and HTS ’24).
The program aims to increase diversity in the aerospace industry by providing exceptional Black undergraduate students with a competitive summer internship, a pair of mentors established in the aerospace industry, and a $2000 scholarship. The fellowship is available to first and second-year students who are looking for their first jobs in the industry.
Applicants were selected based on their academic achievements, creativity, passion for aerospace, and commitment to serving others.
The fellowship is named after Patti Grace Smith, a leader in the aerospace industry. During the civil rights movement, Smith was one of the first students to integrate Alabama public schools. She later became the head of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation and an important public figure in the AE community. The award was created in 2020 and follows the same model as the Brooke Owens Fellowship but is geared towards promoting Black excellence and visibility in aerospace.
For Jalen Cauley, his time at Georgia Tech has prepared him for this opportunity by teaching him to always look to the future. The first-year AE School student believes the fellowship will help him to find ways to use improvements in the space industry to enhance the well-being of those on Earth.
“At Tech, I’ve found that everything we learn here builds to something greater. I'm continuously thinking about the next, or how something can be improved,” said Cauley, who grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and will work at L3Harris Technologies this summer.
Molded by both his mentors and his work with the Georgia Space Grant Consortium, which focuses on STEM student and public outreach for K-12 schools, Jalen is a firm believer that uplifting others can grow the individual, as well as the team. Once he establishes himself as an experienced engineer he plans to start a mentorship program, where other people can propel their learning capabilities.
Justin Connors’ interest in making a lasting impact in the aerospace industry, specifically within the field of propulsion technology, led him to apply. The first-year AE School student from Alexandria, Virginia said he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to gain meaningful hands-on experience.
“With improved propulsion systems, we will be able to increase the scope of any future exploratory missions and uncover more amazing things about our universe,” said Connors, who will spend the summer at Airbus.
Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in aerospace engineering. He aspires to help create technologies that increase rocket efficiency and result in more sustainable space travel.
Suraya John was drawn to the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship because of its accessibility for aerospace students early in their educational career and its commitment to increasing Black representation in the industry. Through the program, she hopes to grow her professional network and gain valuable work experience.
“I hope that, as I learn and grow in the aerospace industry, others will realize how important my perspective is for many projects and the advancement of the industry overall,” said John, a first-year Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering (AE School) student from Virginia Beach, Virginia, who will work this summer at SpaceX.
She spends her free time catering to her interests as the Community Service Chair of Lambda Delta Rho, a sub-organization of the Georgia Tech Society of Black Engineers. She is also involved in the Georgia Tech Experimental Rocketry Club. Her other interests include global studies and running. With a lifelong career in aerospace, Suraya plans on establishing and funding programs to expose students to the industry at young ages. As far as her short-term goals, she hopes that her summer '22 internship with SpaceX will allow her to become and continue to be actively involved in the aerospace industry. However, she is most excited about sharing new experiences and gaining new friendships with the other fellows!