Passion + Curiosity x Diversity = Career Success

During the 2021 AIAA SciTech Forum, a panel of women aviation and aerospace trailblazers imparted sage advice to attendees about pursuing passion with perseverance and staying curious. The panel was part of the special programming on the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.* These extremely impressive trailblazers spoke directly to what AIAA stands for – igniting and celebrating ingenuity and collaboration, and their importance to our way of life. Our purpose is to fuel AIAA members’ imaginations and support their ambitions. The end result, though, is not merely supporting imaginative and ambitious members – it is to ensure members’ dreams and achievements combine to advance humanity.

Pursuing Passion With Perseverance

In my early days I watched Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, and the first astronauts push the limits of the known world. My passion to travel to the stars fueled my life’s work. Recognizing I was probably too tall to be an astronaut, I realized there was an important role to play on the teams who design, build, and operate the rockets and spacecraft that would carry human travelers to Earth orbit, the moon, and beyond. This passion has led to a wonderful career journey.

Challenges – like the Apollo 1 fire and the Challenger and Columbia disasters – are part of exploring the unknown. It was passion and perseverance that carried us through the challenges. Everyone redoubled their efforts to discover the causes of failures, fix the problems, and get back to landing on the moon, exploring the solar system, and building the International Space Station. The keys to moving forward in the face of adversity were passion, perseverance, and being incessantly curious.

Staying Curious

As a Professor of Practice, I implored students to stay curious, to always keep learning, and to continue asking questions, especially “why?”. These are essential traits for success in aerospace. AIAA is here to help students at all points in their careers continue to learn about the latest technologies, methods, and programs, and to better understand the external environment that drives the aerospace and defense industry.

AIAA aims to deliver essential educational opportunities from experts on today’s most relevant subjects, designed to help you meet today and tomorrow’s challenges. With the pandemic restrictions, we have found ourselves teaching and learning in new ways. In 2020, AIAA converted its premier forums to fully online events, reaching more than 20,000 individuals with live and on-demand opportunities. We will continue with the online forum components as we add back in-person events as soon it is safe to do so.

Over 500 people took advantage of 13 AIAA continuing education course offerings in 2020. Looking ahead at spring 2021, we have scheduled 11 online courses to meet the growing need. You can browse the online learning catalog and register for courses directly at The courses offer invaluable knowledge and practical solutions that you can put to immediate use in your career, without having to go back to school for a grade or degree. Create your own momentum as you pursue lifelong learning. Remember, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of minds to think,” according to the great physicist Albert Einstein.

Accelerating Change

Staying curious also means pursuing diverse thoughts and perspectives, which is essential when tackling tough problems. Across AIAA, we have the opportunity and responsibility to put more focus on embracing diversity of thought across the aerospace and defense industry. AIAA is addressing this need in education and career development. Fueling the entire educational pipeline – from sparking interest in the young, to staying current in one’s early career, to tracking advances happening more rapidly than ever as a professional – is key to our collective future. We must intentionally promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in our educational institutions and continuing through our respective career journeys across the industry.

Accelerating this amount of change may seem daunting. Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” AIAA members in our regions, sections, and branches are exactly the groups that can make this shift. They can reach into underserved and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods where they live and work to promote STEM programs and invite bright future students and young professionals to join them. It’s vital for us to push harder and change faster as we see the future challenges for our society. Now is the time for all of us to cause “good trouble,” as the late Rep. John Lewis would say, in taking actions that promote diversity today and also lays the foundation for an inclusive future.

Achieving Career Success

Engineering is a great teacher in understanding a problem or situation, understanding the constraints, and determining the validity of information to arrive at information-based conclusions and results. Our engineering education instills the fundamentals and points us to a future. We must continue to stay curious through our career journeys, seek out diversity of thought and perspective, and persevere with passion. AIAA is your “go to” resource to help you succeed. ★

*You can view the “Tribute to Service: Community, Country, and Humanity” presented by AIAA and NSBE Aerospace Special Interest Group at to hear the panel discussion that inspired this message.

Passion + Curiosity x Diversity = Career Success