Jocelyn Clancy is a sophomore studying Astronautical Engineering at the University of Southern California. Earlier this year, she was named as one of 36 inaugural Brooke Owens Fellows. The Fellowship, a volunteer-led program awarding internships and senior mentorship to exceptional undergraduate women seeking careers in aviation or space exploration, was founded in memoriam of space industry pioneer and pilot D. Brooke Owens.
The program was co-founded by Lori Garver, former Deputy Administrator of NASA and now General Manager at the Air Line Pilots Association; Cassie Lee, the Director of Aerospace Applications at Vulcan, Inc.; and William Pomerantz, the Vice President of Special Projects at Virgin Galactic and Chair of the Board of Advisors of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.
How did you get into space?
“I think space has always just been super cool. It started when I was in second grade. My dad said to me, ‘okay, we’re watching Star Wars.’ And I just loved it. It is a fun, enjoyable movie about space, and about good vs. evil and light speed and intergalactic travel and all these amazing things. I loved Star Trek as well. I would watch the Star Trek series and I binged that before binging was even a thing.”
“We recorded it on the DVR and I watched the entire series when I was 14, in freshman year [of high school]. That got me even more interested in space, you know, with Captain Kirk and the Federation. So I started thinking, how cool would it be to work in space? Its not the same as Star Trek, of course, but that got in my head, like, I could work in space, get a job doing things in space. I was good at math and science, and I had an interest, so I was like, ‘Why not?’
And so I took astronomy senior year of high school… that was the coolest class ever. We had two high schools in our city, and the other had a planetarium. So I went every day from my high school to the planetarium. This was basically a class where we would read space articles, talk about space and then go to the planetarium, play chill music and practice finding constellations. It was great. My teacher [told me] the space industry is really starting to pick up speed right now. He started talking about SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, [companies] that were just starting to pick up. At that moment, I was like, yeah, this is it. This is what I’m going to do.”
And after high school, you came to USC with a real knowledge of your passion?
“Exactly. So I came to USC and picked astronautical engineering for a major – a lot of people go into chemical or mechanical engineering, but I knew that I wanted to go into space and build space stuff. The program here was really cool – it’s really dedicated to building space stuff and so I can focus a little bit on the mechanical part and the electrical part and really go deep into this.”
“It’s always really interesting because you have these really intense classes, and there’s reward for it. I’m part of the rocket propulsion lab on campus and you’re actually part of an amazing launch. You see this and the rewards, and to be a part of it, you’re like this is why I do what I do. This is why I’m studying what I’m studying. This is why I got interested in [space] in the first place. It’s a lot of really, really hard work and then there’s tremendous reward at the end.”
How did you hear about the Brooke Owens Fellowship? What was that process like?
“We have an advisor for our department and she’ll send out emails to the whole department if there’s anything space related. So she sent out an email and said, ‘hey, if this seems interesting to anyone, apply for it.’ So I looked at it and I was like, huh, something interesting. I looked more into it and the more I thought about it the more I was like, ‘this is absolutely perfect.’ In that, not only does it include an internship over the summer, which by itself is the dream, it’s the goal, but it’s also working to build a community of women in the aerospace industry, like a support system to be able to talk to these women and learn from each other. That was so appealing to me and to be able to talk to all of these women that are as interested as I am in space is awesome. Everything about it seemed like something I wanted to do.”
“I was studying abroad in New Zealand at the time. It was a little bit early to study abroad as a sophomore but as an astronautical engineering major you don’t get a lot of time. What I did was double up on classes to ensure that I could study abroad and enjoy the whole experience. Once you go abroad, space isn’t that much of a focus. So I started planning really early to study abroad, it was something I was really interested in and it was amazing, I would one hundred percent recommend it. It was actually my first time out of the country. So the submission was due middle of December and the semester in New Zealand ended mid-November, so that’s how I was able to put together such a stellar application, I didn’t have to worry about finals or anything like that. I had a lot of time to really focus on the application.”
“In my essay, I just wrote about how I wanted to work in space, especially in systems work, but that’s why I need mentors to figure out the path that I can go on. Right now I need to start focusing on specific areas to focus on for a career and that’s what I’m really hoping this fellowship does for me. I actually misread the application and I did two multimedia projects, I went extra gung-ho.”
“For one of them, I wrote up a conversation and a little dialogue and had it with my sister, all the different ways space intersects with our lives – with art and satellites and television but even farther back with stars to navigate with and learn when to water your crops and tell stories, and science fiction and all these things.”
“The other multimedia piece that I think was better was a poem about the intersection of art and science; I’ve always felt that’s been a really important part of who I am. I’ve always loved reading and writing and I’ve always loved math and science. Everyone’s always like, you can’t do both, but you CAN, and it also makes sense to! They’re different ways to describe the world we live in. One of them has more numbers and the other has more words. They’re both ways to describe our existence. They intersect really well. You need creativity to be a good engineer and you need discipline to be a good writer or artist. So I wrote a poem about the battle between art and science and how the soldiers couldn’t remember what side they were on at the end.”
“I submitted the application and then it gets to December and they wanted to interview me, and not only did they want to interview me, but the woman whom I interviewed with, her name is Lori Garver, she was the former Deputy Administrator of NASA. I was like, ‘say, what now?’ That’s whom I’m interviewing with? I immediately realized the scope of this program that it wasn’t just ‘let’s get a bunch of girls together and talk about space’ – this is important people in industry that really care about this. I was so nervous for this interview; she is literally career goals for me. How do you talk to someone like that? I eventually got my bearings and it ended up being a conversation. It ended up going well.”
“I hear back and I got matched with two of their partners companies – Aerospace Corporation and Apicen. Then they had their own separate interviewing process. Apicen is more of a business consulting [company], and AC is more of aerospace engineering. [The candidates] ranked which company we wanted to work for, and the companies each ranked us as well. They have some sort of match program and I got matched with Aerospace Corp along with two other girls who were fellows! They wanted three out of the five people they interviewed. I also got matched with a mentor, who is Will Pomerantz, just casually the Chair of the Board of Advisors of SEDS, just casually the Virgin Galactic vice president and just a really cool guy.”
“It’s been incredible. I went to a Women In Space event a few weeks ago and met with a bunch of people in the industry. I met Will a couple of weekends ago for a tour of Virgin Orbit, he’s been an incredible resource already and just very available. The whole thing is a bit overwhelming but super cool. It’s that amazing connection that’s all due to space! All the girls have been chatting and sharing all the cool projects everyone’s working on and it’s just been really awesome.”
How has SEDS impacted you? What has it meant to you to have this organization on campus?
“I had Astro 280 with Dr. [Paul] Giuliano this semester, and he told me there’s this group that’s starting at USC, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space; he said it’s about space, and there’s free food at the first meeting. What more do you need, you know?
So I went and there were a lot of people I already knew, and I met a lot of other people who were interested in space, and we all were just in a group with the same passions, similar to the Fellows. It’s really amazing. What’s really cool is that there are a lot of different people with different intests and studying a variety of things, there’re a lot of engineers but not exclusively engineers.”
“Dr. Giuliano gave a stellar talk about satellites, and that talk actually convinced two people to start studying and majoring in astronomical engineering. There have been a lot of cool events to get together and discuss trends in the industry and getting super involved in space. What more can you need? At this point, it’s nice to have that social aspect and that can be just as valuable as other groups on campus. To be able to geek out about what you love and with people you’re friends with is amazing. I can’t wait to see it grow and develop at USC and help it evolve.”
What does it mean to you to have a fellowship for women who want to work in the space industry specifically?
“In high school I was on a robotics team. They tried to put me on the spirit team, which were all administrative work and charity and things like that. I look over and see the team working and it’s basically all girls, then I look over and see the robotics team working and it’s almost all guys. I’m like, ‘no I want to build the robot or do the coding.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with doing administrative work, but it’s just not what I wanted to do or what I was fit to do. So they put me on the software team and it was cool, but it was a miserable experience in total. We had mentors from the local software and aerospace companies and it was horrible, sexist jokes and the sense that I didn’t really belong there. There was a sense that I was the token girl there, just trying to learn and do all these things but instead of building things they would put me in the actual calculations instead of building. And it was really strange because they were like, ‘in a year you could be the lab lead because you’re really good at organization’ but I was treated terribly the whole time, I never came back. Luckily I’m incredibly stubborn and I knew that that experience wasn’t going to stop me.”
“[Engineering and space] have generally been a “man’s club” but I wasn’t letting that get in the way of what I wanted to do. Luckily at USC, there hasn’t been a real issue. It’s not perfect, it’s about 30-70 (female-male ratio) in the mechanical and aerospace departments, which is a lot better than other places – but just also I’ve never felt left out and not included. At the same time it’s just to have that support group of women is crucial. For that high schooler or young college student that doesn’t know if she really wants to do engineering or go into space, having that group of people that support and care about your progress is crucial. To see women kind of paving the way for other women, it is just so important. To see other women being successful, it’s showing, ‘hey, I can be successful too.’ This is the first year of the fellowship and I’m really looking forward to the future where I can hopefully be that successful role model to a younger person who is interested in space. Just starting that process of bringing together a bunch of really smart, really passionate, talented women, into the space industry and get that support from them is awesome and I’m thrilled for the summer.”