ASU engineering graduate looks to the sky, reaches for the stars

Brittany Nez in the lab

Brittany Nez, recent aerospace engineering graduate, works in the lab during her undergraduate studies. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU


Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Brittany Nez was a cowgirl growing up, riding and roping from an early age. Every spring and summer her family traveled to her grandmother’s house on the Navajo reservation to tend the livestock, and she still loves being outdoors. But it was a field trip in middle school that made her look to the sky.

The class visited a location where lunar rovers were being tested, and for the first time, she heard about aerospace engineering.

Nez found a perfect fit in the general engineering program at the Arizona State University Polytechnic campus, where the small-campus feel and hands-on methodology allowed her to find her focus.

She was working on a project through the NASA Space Grant Internship Program, creating a secondary control system for an underwater robot, when she realized her deep interest in the mechanical/aerospace engineering field.

Her biggest achievement was leading ASU’s Next Level Devils microgravity team in creating a project accepted by NASA for the 2017 Micro-G NExT Program held at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Brittany is also proud of the two years of research she conducted during her NASA internship, work that became the basis of her honors thesis.

Nez was the ASU chapter co-president for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. The group promotes the STEM disciplines to Native American students, a mission she plans to back at the secondary level by supporting AISES and similar groups.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: There were several checkpoints in my education that let me know I was on the right path. The first would probably be my first week at ASU. My classes and the people I was surrounded by gave me confidence that I was where I needed to be. Another time I remember feeling this way (was) when I finished my first project with NASA Space Grant because that was the point when I realized that I needed to change my major. The next time was when I started my honors thesis, because I realized that I have other STEM interests besides aerospace engineering. Another major moment was my trip to Houston because I had finally accomplished a childhood dream to see the NASA headquarters. The most recent “aha” moment occurred with my fellowship at Northwestern University where I realized that I have set myself up in a position where, no matter which path I decide to choose, I will always be happy.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose to come to ASU because it had a great engineering program and the program was very versatile. At the time, I did not know which type of engineering I wanted to go to school for, so ASU’s general engineering program at the Polytechnic campus was appealing to me. I really liked the hands-on methodology that the school provided, and I enjoyed the idea of having the small-campus feel of the Polytechnic campus while still having the resources that a large campus would provide at the Tempe campus.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I am heading to Illinois to work for QuesTek Innovations as a materials engineer. In the future, I hope to become a test pilot for NASA. I hope to complete Air Force Officer Training School and become a pilot. I think I want to continue my education and attain a graduate degree in either mechanical or material science engineering in hopes to better my chances of becoming a test pilot.