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ASU honors student awarded fellowship for women, gender minorities interested in aerospace industry

As a Brooke Owens Fellow, Ritisha Das will work on satellites at Airbus US Space & Defense in Arlington, Virginia

Portrait of Ritisha Das.

Ritisha Das, a senior double-major in mechanical engineering and mathematics, has been selected for the Brooke Owens Fellowship for women and gender minorities interested in aerospace and space exploration careers. Courtesy photo

March 18, 2024

Ritisha Das, a senior in Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, has been awarded a 2024 Brooke Owens Fellowship, a national award for exceptional undergraduate women and gender minorities who aspire to careers in aerospace and space exploration.

A double-major in mechanical engineering and mathematics, Das is one of only 47 fellows chosen from a pool of over 450 applicants from colleges and universities across the United States and abroad. Brooke Owens Fellows are selected for their demonstrated talent, commitment to service and creativity. Their experience in the program is designed to help them grow in each of those areas, turning promising students into thriving leaders.

“The Brooke Owens Fellowship is a remarkable award in that it is very mission driven,” said Kyle Mox, associate dean and director of the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement, which assists students in applying for major external fellowships. “The aerospace industry is an overwhelmingly male-dominated sector, and by promoting this sort of inclusion and access, the program introduces new voices and ways of looking at problems."

As a Brooke Owens Fellow, Das will be in a 12-week internship with Airbus U.S. Space & Defense in Arlington, Virginia, where she will be a systems engineer working on satellites.  

Being accepted as a fellow “was an absolutely euphoric dream come true,” said Das, who is also a Flinn Scholar. “I had my eye on this fellowship since I entered college, biding my time to apply. I was waiting for the perfect moment where I felt I could stand as a worthy applicant.”

In addition to a high-level internship placement, all Brooke Owens Fellows receive significant professional development. Das will be matched with two executive-level mentors, one at her internship placement and another elsewhere in the aerospace industry.

A key feature of the program is the Brooke Owens Summit in Washington, D.C., where the entire cohort of Brooke Owens Fellows convene to participate in team projects, one-on-one mentoring sessions and meetings with congresswomen, astronauts, CEOs and company founders.

“I am looking forward to how this summer will help me gain real-world technical experience in industry that I can pair with my undergraduate research experiences, helping me prepare for both graduate school and industry positions,” Das said.

Das hopes to build on her already impressive record of undergraduate research. She has helped develop an AI network to generate breast cancer lesion models for virtual clinical trials in local hospitals in Belgium, and last summer, she completed a research internship at the Hamburg University of Technology through the DAAD-RISE Germany program, helping implement impact algorithms in MATLAB.

Currently, as a NASA Space Grant intern, she uses computer simulations to explore how the mantle temperature of Mars has affected its planetary development. For her Barrett Honors thesis, she is designing a medical implant valve model to treat hydrocephalus, or excess fluid in the skull.

In addition to her accomplishments as a young scientist, she has also held numerous leadership roles. She currently serves as the president of Women in STEM and is a member of the Model United Nations (MUN) Debate Team at ASU. Through Women in STEM, she started an outreach program for middle and high school students in underfunded schools. She facilitates school visits and talks to demystify college for girls and nonbinary youth, encourage their interest in STEM and provide live science experiment demonstrations.

Das, who is particularly interested in global affairs and the legal, ethical and social consequences of engineering, has been president and secretary general of the Model U.N. Team at ASU for three years. She has won numerous awards for her written work and delegate performance at conferences spanning the North American Model U.N. competition. Currently, she is training her university team to compete at the Harvard World Model U.N. competition, dubbed the “Olympics” of MUN, in Taiwan.

After completing her undergraduate studies, Das hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering in preparation for a career as a rocket scientist.

“But my ultimate goal is to become an astronaut that completes research missions for NASA,” Das said. “This fellowship would provide so much clarity and information on what steps I need to take to transform these goals into actionable career moves.”

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