Status Report

AIAA Memo Regarding Diversity

By SpaceRef Editor
September 27, 2019
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Increasing the diversity of the aerospace community and the future workforce has been—and continues to be—a mission priority for AIAA. We’ve been seeing improvements in recent years, especially through the hard work of our dedicated AIAA Diversity Working Group. This year all 10 of the 2019 AIAA graduate awards were presented to highly qualified students, all male. These were the most qualified students based on the blind selection process. However, the aerospace industry and AIAA need to better represent the diverse world around us. 

As background, AIAA uses a gender-blind review process for graduate awards and undergraduate scholarships, save for the Leatrice Gregory Pendray Scholarship, which is only available to female students. AIAA has had gender-blind reviews for years because it’s the right thing to do. It is obvious that what we’ve been doing as a community can be improved. We’ve created a team to find more effective ways of reaching more women and other underrepresented individuals. The Institute is committed to doing better.

Because so many of us are engineers, I want to share the data with you so we can understand the landscape:

In 2017, the seven graduate awards went to three women and four men, while the 2017 undergraduate scholarship awards went to six women and four men. In 2018, there were nine graduate awards going to four women and five men. There were a total of 12 undergraduate scholarships for 2018 with eight going to women and four to men. This year’s undergraduate awards had five women and seven men awardees. 

Now let’s take a closer look at this year’s graduate awards. There were 53 total applicants, 42 were male and 11 were female. Students apply for each specific award. For two awards, no women applied. For another award, seven women applied but only two met the GPA requirement, while in contrast 26 male students applied. 

We’re not making excuses. This information is a clear sign we need to tackle this problem in new ways to increase the applicant pool and the number of women in aerospace in general.

The number of women in aerospace is stuck at 24 percent, where it’s stayed for two decades, according to the Aviation Week Network 2019 Workforce Corporate Study conducted in cooperation with AIAA, the Aerospace Industries Association, and PwC.

The Diversity Working Group is a vital part of AIAA’s concerted and ongoing effort to increase diversity. We also have the Diversity Scholars program, where the Institute hosts students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, individuals with disabilities, first-generation students, individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, and gender minorities at forums, so they can meet mentors, network, and learn more about the wide range of opportunities open to them in the aerospace community.

I’m appealing to our members and the STEM community to help boost the number of students applying for aerospace scholarships and other opportunities. Applications for the 2020 scholarships are being accepted from 1 October to 31 January. 

Please encourage students to become involved with AIAA by joining the student branch at their school, applying for scholarshipsparticipating in design competitions, networking with their local AIAA section, and attending AIAA forums and student conferences. Also, help us bring workforce diversity to the attention of policymakers during Congressional Visits Day and other outreach efforts.

It will take years of intentional, hard—but important—work to increase the percentage of women and underrepresented minorities in our industry, but we must achieve this moral imperative. I urge everyone to help build a stronger more diverse workforce for the future. 

AIAA Next Gen Technical Symposium

As you know, I like to point out AIAA sections that are doing a great job of reaching out to early career young professional engineers. The AIAA Greater Huntsville Section hosted the AIAA Next Gen Technical Symposium for members of its section and neighboring sections earlier this month. The successful event is in its fourth year and for good reason. I would particularly like to thank Bill Roark, Torch Technologies, and the other speakers for their support of the symposium.

The symposium gives many early career YPs who don’t have opportunities to attend national conferences and forums a chance to present their work in technical settings outside of their own organization. As well as presenting their work, these YPs receive feedback and mentorship from senior professionals in attendance, network at social events, and attend career development sessions for technical and “soft” skills.

To make these events successful, Kurt Polzin, Region II Director, advises that it is critical to have early buy-in from local institutions and companies to ensure viability of the event, both financially and in terms of commitments to send attendees. The attendance of senior professionals, technical experts, and leaders is also important as they are a huge mentorship source and they know the expectations for forum-level work, bringing that expectation to the local event to elevate the quality for all involved.

Call for Participation — AIAA Standards Domains

The AIAA Standards Steering Committee (SSC) is looking for volunteers, both members and nonmembers, to participate on its Growth Area Domains, which include commercialization of space, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), cybersecurity, automation/autonomy, and more. As you know, setting standards is crucial for growth, so please consider lending your expertise. More details.

IAC 2019

It’s hard to believe but fall is here and IAC 2019 is next month. I look forward to seeing you in Washington, D.C., at this influential event that comes at a pivotal moment in the space economy. It’s going to be a lot of fun, but even more than that, we’ll be setting the groundwork for creating a new space economy. We need your know-how and creativity to take the aerospace industry to the next level.


Dan Dumbacher
AIAA Executive Director

SpaceRef staff editor.