Aerospace alumna joins Brooke Owens Fellowship executive team

Posted: July 13, 2020
Kayla Watson with colleagues at a conference
Watson, far right, with fellow "Brookies" Anna Voelker (far left) and Amy Huynh (second from left) at the SciAccess conference on accessibility in science. Next to Watson is Anousheh Ansari, a fellowship mentor and astronaut.

Recent Ohio State engineering graduate Kayla Watson (aerospace ’19) has been named to the executive leadership team of the Brooke Owens Fellowship—the award-winning, non-profit program that provides paid internships and executive mentorship to exceptional undergraduate women and gender minorities in aerospace.

In an effort to be more inclusive and drive more progress in reaching underrepresented communities, co-founder Lori Garver has stepped back from her day-to-day responsibilities as a member of the executive team in order to make room for women of color. Watson, an alumna of the fellowship, will join additional new members Diana Trujillo and Caroline Juang on the board.

“I am excited most about the opportunity to introduce additional diversity and inclusion initiatives to create a more enriched experience for all fellows,” said Watson of her new role. “I hope that the impact I have is one that provides another perspective to the decisions made being a woman of color and creating a more inclusive experience for everyone in the fellowship that eventually trickles into industry, knowing how influential ‘Brookies’ can be.”

Following a rigorous and highly competitive application process, Watson was selected as a fellow in 2018. As a Brookie, she interned at Amazon Prime Air, which led to her current full-time position at the firm as a system reliability engineer. As an alumna of the fellowship, she has served in a variety of roles including mentor, selection committee member and organizational outreach coordinator, allowing her to gain valuable insight into the program.

As an undergraduate at Ohio State, Watson admits there were times she doubted herself, but that a number of organizations on campus were beacons of hope that encouraged her, including the Minority Engineering Program (MEP) and Women in Engineering. She was honored with the Morrill Scholar's Distinction Full Academic Scholarship and with the MEP Freshman Excellence Award. While serving as president of Ohio State’s chapter of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), she led an effort to develop “UAV Safety City,” a low-cost, low-regulatory-footprint drone testing facility in the state of Ohio. She also worked as a researcher for the Battelle Center for Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, an experience she credits with providing a strong foundation that helped her obtain the Brooke Owens Fellowship.

“Kayla was an outstanding student at Ohio State. She is one of the strongest people I know—a woman of immense resolve, dedication and intellect,” said Professor Jim Gregory, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “The Brooke Owens Fellowship is very competitive, so it was an honor for Kayla to be selected for it a few years ago, and much more so for her now to be providing leadership and direction to the fellowship program to benefit younger students.” 

Interim Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Lisa Barclay, who first met Watson when she was a participant in the college’s PREFACE Summer Bridge program, was thrilled to hear the news. “I have watched Kayla develop both academically and personally in a very challenging field of study that continues to present women of color with additional significant barriers. Despite this, she persevered and showed an incredible amount of fortitude and inner strength. What is most impressive about Kayla is her loving and giving heart. She often made herself available to many of our younger engineering students and continues to be an unofficial mentor and role model.” 

As for how other Ohio State students can follow in her footsteps? Watson offered some advice.

“Without the Brooke Owens Fellowship I would not be the woman and professional I am today,” Watson said. “Any Buckeye engineers who might be interested, please apply and please contact me at kayla@brookeowensfellowship.org. We would love to have more Buckeye ‘Brookies’ and this is truly an opportunity of a lifetime.”

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu

Category: Alumni