Meet the AeroAfroAstro executive leadership team, from left to right: Jesudunsin Awodele, Kojo Bekoe-Sakyi, Gabriel Nixon, Tessa Rogers, and Simeon Salia.
Starting Fall 2022, the Georgia Tech School of Aerospace Engineering (AE) has a new student organization, AeroAfroAstro (AAA), that aims to support and increase the number of Black aerospace engineers who excel academically and professionally.
The new group will be led by AE students, Jesudunsin Awodele, Kojo Bekoe-Sakyi, Gabriel Nixon, Tessa Rogers and Simeon Salia and advised by Brittany Hodges, Chris Lundy and professors Stephen Ruffin, and Mitchell Walker. The mission of AAA is to provide academic and professional development and mentorship to Black AE students, access to undergraduate and graduate aerospace research opportunities, and access to internship and co-op opportunities. Any Georgia Tech student interested in aerospace and supporting the mission is eligible to join the group, provided they meet campus-wide requirements.
During their first year, AAA plans to host several events. They will host an undergraduate and graduate student mixer, a financial aid workshop, an internship workshop, and a combined student luncheon. They plan to invite students who previously held internships to host the internship workshop and share their experiences. The group also plans to bring in industry experts and high-profile speakers to inform and inspire members. “The School of AE is incredibly proud of the academic success and leadership of these students. Their dedication and service will be a benefit to so many in their careers,” said Ruffin.
AAA Executive Leadership
Simeon Salia, founder and president of AAA, was inspired to start the organization after managing the Georgia Tech Black in AE group chat. While managing the chat, he spoke with many peers about what could be done to improve the outcomes for Black AE students graduating from Georgia Tech. Lack of resources seemed to be a recurring theme, so Salia was compelled to do something to help students excel. He reached out to find a leadership team who shared his passion for service. The graduate student wanted to become a rocket scientist after reading October Sky, an autobiography by Homer Hickman, in middle school. “I wanted to defy gravity,” Salia beamed.
Jesudunsin Awodele, vice president of the organization and co-founder, saw the need for an organization like AAA after receiving the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship. “Since I received the fellowship, I’ve felt a responsibility to help Black aerospace engineering students who lack confidence or don’t believe they will fit.” He believes that if everyone helps, it can go a long way. He sees the organization serving Georgia Tech students and prospective students in the pipeline. The Georgia Tech Air Force ROTC cadet will be commissioned in May when he graduates. He plans to serve in the Air Force and ultimately become a flight test engineer. He was born in Lagos, Nigeria and moved to the United States as an infant. He always loved airplanes, but his success in AP Physics and Calculus courses propelled him into the field. He was recently selected for the 2022 Aviation Week Network’s 20 Twenties program.
Gabriel Nixon, undergraduate executive officer and aspiring astronaut, is heavily involved in organizing upcoming events and has a full schedule for the upcoming year. “By creating AAA, we are taking the next steps to make sure that future Black aerospace engineers have the resources, support networks, and scholarship opportunities to achieve at the highest level,” said Nixon. His middle and high school teachers greatly influenced his success because they opened his mind to possibilities. He sees AAA doing the same for Georgia Tech students. During his 10th grade year, the YouTube video of SpaceX landing their booster on a ship in the ocean sparked his interest in aerospace engineering. Later, he looked to Mae Jemison, Mary Jackson, and Sandra Magnus as role models.
Kojo Bekoe-Sakyi, the historian, secretary, and treasurer of AAA, hopes to create a space where students can support each other academically and emotionally. “It is important to create a place where we can be transparent, ask questions, and hear from people who have actually overcome some of the challenges students face. He knew when he was six years old what he wanted to do with his life. His parents, who are from Ghana, took him to the airport for the first time, and the adventure began. “Watching the planes take off, I immediately knew I wanted to build airplanes when I grew up.” Learning about the Tuskegee Airmen further sparked his initial dream. “I loved the whole story that they flew while simultaneously fighting for their rights and equality. I think that was another big point of inspiration for me as a Black aerospace student.”
The organization’s graduate executive officer Tessa Rogers is also the public relations chair for the Black Graduate Student Association The AE graduate student brings a wealth of experience from her undergraduate studies at UC San Diego and her work at Northrop Grumman where she worked as a structural engineer on the F-18 and a systems engineer on the James Webb Space Telescope. Her desire to become an engineer started at the tender age of seven while playing Roller Coaster Tycoon; her mother told her that engineers build roller coasters. From that point forward, she knew what she wanted to do. Rogers hopes to design spacecraft after she completes her studies. Tessa asserted that the lifelong network that AAA will provide will be especially important in the success of Black aerospace engineering students now and in the future. Moving from California to Georgia was a hard transition for the first-generation college graduate, and she appreciated the support of professor Dimitri Mavris and the whole Aerospace Systems Design Lab (ASDL) community. She hopes to see that type of community support in AAA. “Having a tight-knit community can help ensure student success and support. The older students can help guide and mentor younger students.”
As they become more established and build capacity, AAA Leadership envisions expanding beyond Georgia Tech students to fill the pipeline. “We want to make sure that these K-12 students have exposure to STEM and aerospace,” Nixon shared. They envision working with AE School's K-12 outreach and other non-profit organizations focused on STEM.