An Auburn University aerospace engineering doctoral student has received the Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship, becoming one of only 30 recipients worldwide for the 2020-21 academic year. The $10,000 fellowship will support Yaeji Kim in her pursuit of a doctorate degree, studying how gravitational tides affect the behavior of asteroids that would closely approach Earth.
“The purpose of this fellowship is to help women have access to resources and have representation in decision-making positions in the space science fields,” Kim said. “I believe there are still some people who have stereotypes toward women engineers. This fellowship proves that I am doing well as a woman engineer in my research and encourages me continue to work hard to achieve my desires.”
Kim decided to pursue her graduate work at Auburn after earning her undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering from Korea Aerospace University.
“When I was an undergraduate, I was working on a small satellite project and I searched many papers related to my work. One of the papers I read was written by Auburn University professors so that’s how I first learned of the work happening here at Auburn,” she said. “When I was searching for graduate schools I was again interested in Auburn University because I felt like it was a very research-oriented school and has a good faculty. That’s why I decided to do my graduate work here.”
Kim is advised by Masatoshi Hirabayashi, assistant professor in aerospace engineering. Hirabayashi noted the potential impact that Kim’s award might have on Auburn University’s aerospace engineering program.
“It is substantial that she will receive the Amelia Earhart Fellowship this year. The graduate program in aerospace engineering at Auburn has been growing rapidly over the last few years. Particularly, we have been emphasizing education to develop leadership from diverse communities as the most critical element of our graduate program,” he said. “I hope that Yaeji’s achievement will promote the participation of women in our program to learn skills and knowledge that will enable them to become leaders in aerospace engineering.”
The Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship was established in 1938 in honor of aviatrix Amelia Earhart, a member of the Zonta community before her untimely death. The fellowship aims to “empower women through encouragement and financial support of women pursuing a Ph.D./doctoral degree conducting research applied to aerospace engineering or space sciences,” according to the Zonta International website.
“There is no specific word to describe how I feel to have received this award. I just hope to encourage more students at Auburn to reach for what they really desire,” she said. “There are so many talented students in aerospace engineering here so I just want to encourage them to face their challenges and work toward their goals.”
Upon completing her doctorate, Kim plans to pursue a career at a space agency where she can apply her research.
“I want to go into industry and contribute to developing the space sciences,” she said. “I hope to confidently lead a project, working on space exploration missions, as a woman space engineer and scientist one day.”