Meet your presidential candidates

Photos, from left: Basil Hassan, George Nield, Wanda Sigur

Editor’s note: Extended transcripts of the candidates’ interviews: Basil Hassan, George Nield, Wanda Sigur.

Every two years, AIAA members select a president-elect who will help guide the institute as a member of the Board of Trustees and as president beginning a year later. This year’s candidates have strong visions about how to modernize the institute and better serve its members. I interviewed each by phone for this special section and the expanded versions of the interviews online. — Ben Iannotta, editor-in-chief


Why he wants to be president >>

I’ve reaped a lot of benefits from being a member, both personally as well as professionally, and I want to make sure that the younger professionals who are coming out of school have the opportunity to be able to experience some of the same things I did. If AIAA is going to be a venue to do that, we have to think about evolving ourselves and making sure that those networking opportunities, those information exchange opportunities are not only meeting the needs of the current members but are also going to be meeting the needs of our future members.

Lowering the entry barriers >>

The first thing I’d like to make sure we do is that we provide potential members that value proposition of why AIAA is important both personally and professionally. That comes by making sure we have a lot of engagement opportunities. Not everybody’s going to be able to travel, so we need to sort of lower the barrier of entry to allow people to participate, and I think that’s just going to be different than the normal model we’ve done in the past.

Future members >>

We need to engage the younger professionals earlier. When I was a student, being a student member of AIAA was an expectation from the faculty. I’ve been on five university advisory boards during my career at Sandia, and I’m finding that participating in AIAA is an option now. When I go speak to AIAA student members, I’m constantly telling them that, “Hey, this is a good thing. I wouldn’t be here talking to you today if it wasn’t for my participation.”

AIAA as networking opportunity >>

Sometimes it takes one person to make a difference in being involved in an organization like this. When I was a graduate student, I had a mentor at NASA Langley Research Center, David Throckmorton, who encouraged me to join an AIAA technical committee. He told me, “This is one of the best things you can do because it will get you to the conferences. The networking opportunities would really be great.” I asked my boss when I first started working in Sandia if it was OK if I got involved, and he said, “Absolutely.” A lot of the things I’ve done during my career, including helping to bring programs and funding to Sandia, wouldn’t have happened had I not had that opportunity through AIAA.

Need to adapt >>

If you look at today’s aerospace professionals, getting access to information and networking is still very much important, but we do it a lot differently now. We have something called Google, which we can type a question into and probably get 75 percent of the information we need. The needs of aerospace professionals are changing, and how we deliver that information and accomplish that ability to network is changing as well.

Learning to lead >>

I grew up to be a better leader by moving through the different volunteer opportunities that I had within AIAA and that’s made me a better leader back here at work. It’s a lot harder to convince a set of volunteers to do something than it is to convince someone who works for you, and I’ve been able to hone my leadership skills through AIAA.


Why he wants to be president >>

We’re at a pretty unique place in history right now, whether it’s the proliferation of drones and flyback boosters, reusable launch vehicles, and the development of flying cars and all-electric aircraft, or plans for lunar settlements, human missions to Mars, and point-to-point transportation through space. I see huge potential for us as an organization to try to steer our nation and our society and our industry in the right direction and accomplish some really great things.

Untapped potential >>

We have 1 percent of the number of people that are in aerospace and defense who are members of AIAA, and that is just ridiculous. It should tell you that we’re missing the boat somewhere.

Setting goals >>

I really resonated with the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. He observes that the really, really good [companies] have “Big Hairy Audacious Goals.” There’s no reason why we can’t do that at the AIAA.

Target of 3 percent membership growth >>

Too easy. We need to at least be talking about doubling [AIAA’s membership] in the next few years. Even that is not where we need to be long term, but I don’t know how long it’s going to take to build some of the relationships with universities, with companies, with the government agencies that can result in, frankly, a trust between AIAA and those organizations that can see this as a win-win.

An AIAA aerospace prize >>

Prizes are something that have been inextricably linked to advances in aerospace right from the start. It makes me wonder: Could AIAA be engaged in coming up with the prize? Either funding some of it ourselves, or getting corporate sponsors, or even talking to some of the wealthy space cadets out in Silicon Valley and see if they’d be interested in working with AIAA.

Teachers in space >>

We’ve got Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin ready to start their regular suborbital flights in the next 12-18 months. Once they get going, maybe you bring back Teacher in Space, but instead of taking one teacher all the way to orbit, you take dozens of teachers every year on a suborbital flight, or at least make available space-related training, and then they go back to their classrooms. I just get goosebumps thinking about what effect that could have on students today.

Involving educators >>

Let’s expand our Educator Associate Program and have it be a goal that we sign up at least one teacher in every school. That could really bring some of that next generation into the tent in terms of this exciting stuff going on. I want to be a part of that.

Adapting to new needs >>

We need to do a better job of showing people how AIAA can be a bridge between jobs, or even a bridge between careers. Secondly, I don’t think AIAA has been very successful at retaining its student members once they graduate and become part of the workforce. So we need to convince them why they need to stick around. I’m not sure AIAA has been keeping up with all of the changes in technology. We need to offer more opportunities to learn about, or to develop policies that deal with some hot topics, like drones, and electric aircraft, smallsats, space traffic management, and point-to-point transportation through space.

If you combine all these things and try to address those, I think the membership will almost take care of itself.

Wanda Sigur

Why she wants to be president >>

I still remember what AIAA did for me. It established a foundation. It was a chance for me to meet folks that helped my career go forward. I can increase membership, but more importantly I can help make those folks who are opting in to this exciting industry be more capable. It’s something that I am doing and will continue to do regardless. It’s a passion I have for making folks successful in this industry.

Helping midcareer professionals >>

The numbers of [AIAA] members are dropping, but most significantly they’re dropping in the midcareer range. The 10-year professionals are not finding AIAA to be their organization of choice. That can be and needs to be turned around. People are engaged in organizations, but not necessarily engaged in AIAA because it doesn’t focus on what helps them move forward. A midcareer professional is looking for perhaps some information on where they are in their career and what else they could be.

Wider audience >>

I want it to have a vision of AIAA being inclusive, which means that it’s more than just those top folks who get a chance to attend forums, but perhaps using digital media and other tools, we’d be able to reach wider populations and provide ways for them to express their competence and capabilities.

Personal touch >>

We need to recognize that the AIAA that a person experiences is the AIAA that touches them at their job. Wouldn’t it be great if you were able to call the guy? I mean that’s the difference between people at the top of the organizations and folks that are working in the trenches: They know the guy. They know the person who actually executed the task. I think that having that accessible for folks is a big deal. I’m working with a company now that’s working on design trades and we were able to bring in an expert who was able to sort through all that information and was able to cut months off the schedule. Those are the kinds of things that having access to the right information can do. I think AIAA is an organization that can make that happen.

Untapped potential >>

When you called, I was watching footage from the OSIRIS-REx satellite, which today reached the orbit around the asteroid Bennu. That’s magical. We had a landing on Mars last week. I had the fortune to meet some folks who were talking about autonomous flight and urban air mobility. There is so much happening in the world today, you would think that there would be a clamor for everyone to become part of the largest professional, technical society in aerospace. I think AIAA is that society, but I don’t see the numbers reflected in the numbers of folks who are opting in.

More diverse workforce >>

I see that there is a possibility for a more diverse — in fact, a mandate for more diverse — workforce. AIAA seems to me that type of an organization that could provide a way for those things to happen.

Working with young people >>

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if [young people] were able to take advantage of the resources that AIAA has, the expertise that AIAA has, and engagement with fellows and others to provide that safety net of information and data that allows for them to be successful? I think AIAA represents an organization that has all that capability.

Meet your presidential candidates