Leeanna Meadows grew up admiring the Blue Angels who flew across the Pensacola sky. She left a history class feeling inspired by the Wright brothers’ first flight. She dreamed about the first steps on the moon.
These are the childhood memories of many aerospace engineers who make great contributions to the field today. But what Meadows did not realize is that these events have something in common other than flying – the absence of women.
Engineering has long been a male-dominated field. However, Meadows is at the forefront of changing this through her work at Mississippi State University.
A junior honors student from Grenada, Miss., Meadows is a founding member and first president of Women of Aerospace (WOA), a new organization on campus. As a leader in this group, she wants to empower female aerospace engineering students through mentorship and support.
“There are a lot of issues that women face if they want to have a family and work in industry,” Meadows said. “That can be intimidating to face.”
To combat such fears, WOA plans to connect engineering students with women currently working in the industry who can provide advice and support. The organization has also established a mentorship program to provide guidance and encouragement to younger members.
Meadows said she knows that being a freshman in engineering can be intimidating. Luckily, in her first year, she encountered two upperclassmen who helped her through tough times. She hopes to provide other underclassmen with the same guidance by creating pairs of mentors and mentees.
“I think the mentorship program will really help the younger members out and give them someone to look up to,” Meadows said.
Members of WOA will also be able to participate in events that promote professional development and fellowship. The group will also sponsor community outreach activities geared toward K-12 students.
“We want to start outreach programs so that kids can be inspired to work hard in school and work toward engineering,” Meadows said.
WOA began as a dream of Rani Sullivan’s, a Mississippi State alumna and associate professor of aerospace engineering. She serves as the club’s adviser.
“I’ve had this idea for many years,” Sullivan said. “I sent out an email and the response was wonderful. I think many of our older girls wished there had been an organization like this when they were freshmen.”
Under the leadership of Sullivan and Meadows, the group has had luncheon meetings every month since September 2013. They also drafted the club’s constitution, elected leaders and planned social events.
In addition to WOA, Meadows is also taking on leadership positions in other aerospace engineering organizations on campus. In Xipiter, an unmanned aerial systems development team, she is working as task lead to build an aircraft out of carbon fiber composites. She is also active in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Theta Tau Professional Engineering Fraternity, where she serves as vice regent.
By participating in these groups, Meadows has realized the importance of leadership skills and teamwork.
“Any kind of leadership experience is important,” Meadows said. “You need to learn how to communicate with others, lead without being forceful and to listen to and inspire others.”
Meadows is unsure of what her future will hold after graduation, although she is interested in working on military fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles. For now, she is focusing on college and enjoying her time as a student.
“I love it here at Mississippi State,” Meadows said. “I’m just keeping my options open. I am not in a hurry.”
By: Erin Boozer