“It’s never too late to get started on your dream, and never too early!
— Makiah Eustice
This Women’s History Month at Mand Labs we focus our attention on the incredible “Little Women” who are following their passion with grit and determination. In this blog series throughout March, we bring you stories of a few dynamic young women who are paving the way for our generation to soar right through the glass ceiling.
Makiah Eustice is a true example of how it is never too late to dream big and get started. This commissioned US Air Force officer and an aspiring astronaut, has in her own words, “grown from a space enthusiast to an aspiring aerospace industry leader.”
Makiah, who graduated from the Space Studies Program at the International Space University in 2019, also received her B.S in Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University. She is also the president of Texas A&M SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) chapter and founder of the Aggie Astronaut Corps program.
The rising star in defense, aviation and space, also has two space analog missions, Mars Desert Research Crew 200 and the Mars Academy USA mission, to her credit.
Makiah spoke to Urmila Marak about her love for aerospace and why it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age. Excerpts.
1. When did you discover your love for aerospace? What has been the most defining moment in your life so far?
I don’t remember the exact moment, but it was junior year of high school when I first heard about Space X and Virgin Galactic. ‘We are going back to space’ was the message. ‘We are going to Mars’! That sounded absolutely crazy, but it gave me such a yearning to be a part of something big, something humanity shifting. I decided to try what I thought was the hardest, most important job for getting to space, engineering!
During my freshman year at Texas A&M, I had several life changing experiences back to back. I had the chance to ride in a T-38 Talon (what they train Air Force pilots and astronauts in) and attend Space Camp USA. I knew then that I wanted to become an Air Force officer and an astronaut. Soon after, I was accepted into Aerospace Engineering. It was like my purpose in life suddenly became clear!
2. How do you intend to take your aerospace career ahead as the commissioned US Air Force Officer?
I’m so excited to finally serve and work as an engineer! I hope to eventually become a flight test engineer. For that I will need to do additional education, so I need to get a Master’s degree through the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) and be selected for the Test Pilot School. At the same time, I’ll be balancing my other pursuits, like spaceflight-related research and training.
My career is unpredictable at this point. I might find a new interest that leads me to another field that I pursue in the private sector. Either way, I want to go to be an astronaut someday! Between the civilian and commercial opportunities in the future, I believe starting my path in the military will help bring my dream closer to reality.
3. How do you think as an influencer in your space you can motivate more girls in STEM?
I believe being my authentic self, whether on or off duty, can help girls see themselves in STEM. I’m a black women, space advocate, analog astronaut, engineer, and future Air Force officer. I can be good at what I do without fitting into any mold.
Secondly, I can show how collaboration and community are so important for STEM. We solve problems together. We depend on each other. We lift each other up. Having a community of supportive women in my field through the Brooke Owens Fellowship has made me better prepared for STEM. I hope girls never think they have to go through their field with a competitive, cutthroat mindset. STEM is fun, and so are the people!
4. As a young girl pursuing a career in STEM, what major challenges do you face?
I didn’t realize how my environment shaped my perception of STEM fields. My interest in physics in high school actually made me scared; I thought it would be too hard to become a scientist, doctor, or engineer. Even when I joined the robotics team, I was very intimidated by students who already had building and coding skills. Instead of encouraging me out of my comfort zone, the coach just did not expect much from me.
The biggest challenge was developing my own courage when I had almost no mentors or proponents to lift me up. It was my own courageous choice to pursue engineering over videography. It is still sometimes a challenge to believe in myself.
5. Who are your role models and why?
I have so many! But I want to especially highlight some of my black role models.My parents, who have a strong relationship, have taught me how to have perseverance and selflessness through struggle. We weren’t well off, but we still brought in two brothers who didn’t have family stability. I really appreciate the value of family because of them.
My cousin, a Columbia University graduate, introduced me to the collegiate world and encouraged me to aim higher than a local college. She is one of the few people in my family with a graduate degree.
Col. Ken Allison, (Ret.) worked in space operations in the Air Force and the private sector. He now supports cadet professional development and has been my mentor since I first visited Texas A&M. I want to model his energy and resilience in the Air force and beyond.
Dr. Sian Proctor, a NASA astronaut finalist and analog astronaut veteran. She helped me prepare for my first Mars analog mission! She is always trying new things and promoting STEM and space. She inspires me to enjoy the journey and don’t stress about the destination.
Naia Butler-Craig is a senior at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. She has presented at multiple conferences, published papers, worked at NASA, started her own company, and got into Georgia Tech for her PhD! She is persistent, confident, and positive. Her achievements inspire me to reach for greatness every day.
6. Why do you think it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age?
From my perspective, I grew up with more of an artistic background from my parents. I loved to dance, sing, and collect rocks to make sculptures! Even though I was good at math and science, I couldn’t see any reason I’d want to work in that field (until high school).
No one taught me the connection of music to sound waves, or rocks to the sediments of Mars. STEM is so important, but for young kids, it’s important to bring it to the world they are already curious about. The perception is that STEM is about being good at calculations or having a lot of knowledge, when it is really another tool to strengthen our passion in any domain!
7. What would you like to tell your peers and other young girls who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
It is never too late to start. Whether you decided to become an astronaut at 5, 18, or 40, age or experience doesn’t control your path. Your dedication does.
It’s also never too early. Be proud of your dream, be curious, and don’t listen to others who think small. If your plan changes, it is because you took the chance to decide yourself, not because others turned you away.
8. How do you like to relax when you are not working?
I play this instrument called the Mountain Dulcimer (also called Appalachian dulcimer). My dad is a rock-start at it, so I decided to pick up this four-stringed beauty. I love learning to play my favorite classic folk and rock songs. I’m even starting to write a bit.
We are proud of her achievements and wish her the very best in her future endeavors! Follow Makiah Eustice on Twitter @Astro_Eustice
Urmila, who is a Big Data and STEM enthusiast, works as the head of communications with Mand Labs. She is a believer in transformation of life and career through STEM. She can be reached on Twitter @umarak
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