Ten students at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering have been selected as recipients of the prestigious WiSE Aerospace Corporation Research Fellowship. The award was established by the Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) program with support from the Aerospace Corporation.
This year’s USC Viterbi recipients include: Michael Koutoumbas, Eva Préstamo, Marissa Renteria, Vanessa Rubien, Natalie Warren, Radhika Bhuckory, Rachelle Elhessen, Queenique Dinh, Kelly Fitzpatrick, and Patrycja Krawczuk. The award was available to undergraduate, master’s, and Ph.D. students.
The fellowship provides recipients with a $2,000 grant and a year-long involvement in a professional development program consisting of workshops, roundtable discussions, an industry leadership seminar series, Aerospace Corporation engagement opportunities, and a summer internship at the Aerospace Corporation during summer 2021.
“I feel incredibly humbled and honored to receive the fellowship,” said Eva Préstamo, a mechanical engineering major. “I intend to make the most out of the whole experience and use everything I learn to give back and open doors for others, as they have been opened for me.”
Here are the USC Viterbi winners:
Michael Koutoumbas is pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and expects to graduate in December of 2021. He transferred to USC from Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. At USC, Koutoumbas has served in the USC Liquid Propulsion Laboratory as an engine test stand engineer, as well as the crew chief for the USC Formula SAE team. His interests in motion and the field of mechanics led him to a summer research internship in the Los Alamos National Lab in the summer of 2020. Koutoumbas is excited for the opportunity to interact with engineering professionals and further develop his skills for his future career.
Eva Préstamo is a rising junior studying mechanical engineering at USC Viterbi. Born and raised in Mexico until she was 10 years old, Préstamo discovered her passion for engineering in high school. At USC, Préstamo belongs to the USC Formula SAE team, where she participates in autocross competitions against universities from all over the world, and is also part of the membership committee of the USC Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). During the summer of 2019, Préstamo was a student in the USC Viterbi Summer Institute, a high achievement program designed to enhance the transition to USC for engineering students from underrepresented backgrounds. She now serves as a student mentor for the summer program, which is run by the Center for Engineering Diversity. Préstamo is now involved in a research project through USC’s Space Engineering Research Center (SERC), where she helps design and develop the La Jument nanosatellite intended to fly new payloads and test different control and communication techniques.
Marissa Renteria just completed her second year as a master’s student in aerospace engineering with research interests in soft robotics, biodegradable materials, biomaterials, polymers, renewable energy, and sustainability. She graduated from USC in 2016 with a B.A. in cinema and media studies. Renteria said she decided to pursue engineering because she wants to help make the world a more informed, beautiful, and sustainable place. As a part of the WiSE program, Renteria most looks forward to attending sustainability seminars and outreach. “If I could connect with and convince just one underrepresented girl or boy that they are immensely valuable, not only in STEM but in any field they decide to pursue, I’ve accomplished something totally bigger than myself,” she said.
Vanessa Rubien is entering her second year as a Ph.D. student in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at USC, with an emphasis in fluid dynamics. She received her B.S. in mechanical engineering from Cal Poly Pomona in 2020. Her research at USC is focused on the use of high-fidelity numerical simulation to model and analyze phenomena occurring in high-speed turbulent fluid flows. In the future, Rubien hopes to apply knowledge gained in high-speed aerodynamics research to cutting-edge programs that work with emerging hypersonic technology. She is excited to take advantage of the opportunity to further develop her communication and leadership skills in science and engineering. “I’m continually inspired by women in leadership positions in my field and I greatly value the advice and guidance I can gain from them,” she said. “As pioneering engineers, they continue to inspire me in my own work.”
Natalie Warren is a rising senior with a major in aerospace engineering and a minor in the entertainment industry. She’s also pursuing a master’s degree in systems architecting and engineering through USC Viterbi’s progressive degree program. Warren’s unique interests combine her passions for space research and exploration, aviation, and the art and business of film and TV production. At USC, Warren has served as the producer for the student-run sketch comedy troupe The Suspenders, in addition to her active involvement in the Greek community, serving as both a 2021 Panhellenic Recruitment Counselor and as the former VP of operations for the Pi Beta Phi sorority. Warren also has an impressive work resume, serving as a project management intern at Northrop Grumman as well as working as a film development intern at Solstice Studios. “Engineering is a fast-paced, overwhelming world with many facets. As someone just entering the industry, I am really grateful to be able to develop my connections with people who really love what they do and can help advise me to find my niche as I grow as an engineer,” Warren said. “I think I am most excited to just have an open rapport with the people at Aerospace who have found joy and success in their work.”
Radhika Bhuckory is a rising senior studying electrical and computer engineering seeking to pursue a future career as a researcher. At USC, she conducts research in the Autonomous Networks Research Group under her advisor, Professor Bhaskar Krishnamachari, Ming Hsieh Faculty Fellow in Electrical Engineering. Bhuckory plans to apply to graduate school and has a special interest in photonics and computational computer science. Outside of research, she is involved in Asli Baat, USC’s competitive South Asian acapella group, Makers, CAIS++, and the IEEE student branch. “I feel incredibly excited and grateful to have received this fellowship especially since this opportunity at Aerospace is very much aligned with my career goals and interest in photonics,” Bhuckory said. “I’ve always been intrigued and curious about space so I am looking forward to exploring the intersection of electrical engineering and space research while working on real-world projects this summer.”
Rachelle Elhessen is a rising senior studying chemical engineering at USC with dreams to pursue a career in wildlife veterinary care. Last year, she co-founded a state-registered non-profit animal rescue called Bella’s Animal Rescue, where she helps to rescue and rehabilitate abandoned and neglected animals, mostly dogs. Elhessen conducts research on reducing atmospheric CO2 in the lab of USC Professor Shaama Sharada. “I feel really grateful to be receiving this fellowship,” Elhessen said. “I understand that not many individuals are given this opportunity, and I am so excited to take full advantage of this experience.”
Queenique Dinh graduated with a B.S. in astronautical engineering this spring and will be finishing a master’s degree in astronautical engineering from Viterbi this fall. The stars and everything beyond the Earth’s atmosphere have fascinated her since childhood; she even dreamed of one day becoming an astronaut. Dinh followed this passion for space through the years, which led her to Los Angeles and USC, right in the heart of the Southland’s aerospace industry. Through her coursework and internships, she has developed a particular interest in astrodynamics and would like to continue exploring ways to traverse the frontier of space throughout her career. In her free time, Dinh enjoys ballroom and social dancing, and she serves on the executive board for the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team. “I’m so grateful to have been given this opportunity to expand my experiences in the aerospace industry and become a part of this network of Aerospace Corporation research fellows,” Dinh said. “I’m very excited about the opportunities I’ll have to learn and grow.”
Kelly Fitzpatrick is a rising senior majoring in astronautical engineering at USC Viterbi. Fitzpatrick has conducted research on brain-computer interfaces at the National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies in Albany, New York, since 2015. She spent the past year interning at Delta Airlines as a repair process engineer in engine maintenance. She’s previously interned at NASA Ames Research Center’s Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory. Fitzpatrick serves as the president of USC’s triathlon team, on the Officer Council of USC’s Society of Women Engineers, and as a “trip leader” for USC’s hiking club, Peaks and Professors. After finishing her graduate studies, Kelly hopes to work in the aerospace industry, with a focus on human spaceflight. “I’m really excited for the opportunity to develop professional and leadership skills that will help me be better equipped to enter the engineering workforce after college,” Fitzpatrick said. “There is definitely still a lot of work to be done in creating equal opportunities for women in engineering, but fellowships such as this one make me really hopeful for the future. I am very honored to be a part of it.”
Patrycja Krawczuk is about to enter her third year as a Ph.D. student at USC Viterbi. She received her B.A. in mathematics and computer science from Hunter College in New York City. Krawczuk holds a research assistant position in Scitech Lab at ISI, and her Ph.D. research is focused on anomaly detection for scientific workflows and workflow management systems for AI-enabled science. Krawczuk is passionate about using AI for social good and about projects in the area of crisis computing. “I’m grateful to be chosen for this fellowship,” Krawczuk said. “I’m excited to learn new skills, make connections with others, and experience what it’s like to work in the industry setting.”