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Anna Sheppard

Level: Ph.D.

Anna Sheppard

How did you become interested in engineering and of UW A&A in particular? Tell us more about your pathways leading you here.

When I was in 3rd grade, my dad told me I should study engineering because I was good at math and science, and that sounded good to me. I chose aerospace engineering because I was enamored of the space shuttle and NASA. I went to Space Camp in 6th grade, and my course was set. [I went to the University of Michigan for undergrad, then commissioned into the Air Force. I went to Edwards AFB, CA to work propulsion integration for the F22 and later green chemical propulsion concepts for in-space propulsion.] I came to A&A for grad school to study in-space propulsion concepts, and we have one of the few programs in the country focusing on innovative concepts.

Tell us about your interesting internships and research.

I interned at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Rocket Propulsion Division, last summer, and it was amazing to see the span of rocket research. I was working on in-space propulsion devices that generate ~200 mN of thrust, but the F-1 engines that powered the Saturn V were tested there (1.5 million pounds a piece!), and we got to see components of the X-33 single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane, including one of the aerospike engines. While at UW, I've been involved with Women in Aerospace, trying to encourage students with any interest in math, science, or space to consider aerospace engineering. I really like outreach; it's always fun talking about cool science with people, especially when it's something like space travel. Also at the UW, working on my Ph.D., I've had lots of chances to investigate different aspects of research projects: I made an electron gun; I've polished fiber optics; I took apart a CRT TV; I installed two 111 kg pendulum valves with my labmate and an engine hoist; and now I'm building a new type of thruster. Every day brings new challenges, and that's been really interesting (occasionally frustrating, too, but more interesting).

What do you enjoy most about A&A?

I got into aerospace for the applications, and that's what brings me back day after day. I love space stations and space shuttles and satellites and lunar rovers and rockets and solar probes and, to a lesser extent, airplanes and jet engines. We as aerospace engineers conquer the final frontier and inspire imaginations across the world. I want to live in a world where I can vacation on the moon, and we're working towards that.

What advice do you have for prospective students?

The best piece of advice I can give, as trite as it is, is to do what you love. A&A is hard, but if you love it, it's worth it. Also, sleep is important; I've never pulled an all-nighter, and I never want to.