Introducing The 2020 20 TwentiesLindsay Bjerregaard
As aircraft become more electric, engines become more efficient and spacecraft seek to conquer new frontiers, the aerospace and defense industry needs fresh ideas from younger generations that grew up with a passion for sustainability and innovative technologies.
Through the annual 20 Twenties program, the Aviation Week Network and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) recognize young, rising stars within the industry. Top students working to solve aerospace challenges are nominated by universities around the world, and a judging panel comprised of hiring managers, engineers and academics selects 20 exceptional winners. Nominees are evaluated based on academic performance, civic contribution and the value of their research or design projects.
Now in its eighth year, the 20 Twenties program received nominations from nearly 50 schools across seven countries, including 17 new ones. Several winners have served as leaders at their universities in helping students from diverse cultural backgrounds achieve better access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and opportunities.
As honoree Valerie Bernstein explains: “One of the biggest problems in the sciences today is that we have a tendency to treat science as inaccessible to certain people. This not only shuts people out from the opportunity for support to pursue science, but also manifests into a culture conditioned to fear science as something that’s untrustworthy or incomprehensible.”
One area of STEM outreach on which this year’s winners are heavily focused is women’s representation in aerospace. Not only were more than half of 2020’s winners female, but many of the students have volunteered their time with organizations and nonprofits devoted to increasing women’s representation and interest in STEM.
In addition to highlighting the importance of diversity in aerospace, this year’s group of students emphasized the need for fearlessness and persistence in the face of failure. Winners engaged with other students to advise, mentor and inspire academic resilience, including a student-run initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology dedicated to destigmatizing failure.
“A test failure is not a reason to give up but a reason to take what you’ve learned and continue forward,” says honoree Jane Gillette. “Sometimes, a project gets scrapped. Sometimes, a test doesn’t go how you want it to. But that provides motivation to continue, to succeed and to do great things.”
According to AIAA Executive Director Dan Dumbacher, new ideas and perspectives from this year’s winners will make a mark on the future of aerospace. “We can expect them to bring fresh ideas to the challenges facing us both here on Earth and beyond our Solar System,” he notes. “We look forward to following their accomplishments and how they shape the future of aeronautics and astronautics.”
The winners will be recognized during the 20 Twenties Awards Luncheon and Aviation Week’s 63rd Annual Laureates Awards on March 12 in Washington.
AIAA 20 Twenties Judges
Mary Lynne Dittmar
President and CEO, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration
Principal Engineer and Group Lead, The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory
Founder, Brooke Owens Fellowship
Head of Engineering for Services, Propulsion and Power, Rolls-Royce
Vice President Advanced Programs, Lockheed Martin
Research and Development Engineer, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Associate Professor, Purdue University
Mission Manager, U.S. Air Force Program Office, United Launch Alliance
Project Engineer, Gulfstream Aerospace Corp.