When Sarah submitted her inspirational leadership phrase, “Let Curiosity lead the way,” for the poster that accompanies this profile, she noted the clever entrendre between the idea of inquisitiveness and the most recently launched Mars Rover, Curiosity. This hop between literary technique and space exploration seems to sum up Sarah’s life; she is intellectually agile, purposeful, and ambitious. She knows what she wants, has high standards, and is willing to do the hard work to reach her goals.
At Duke, Sarah majored in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, with a certificate in Aerospace Engineering and a minor in French. She was a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority and studied abroad in Paris. A valued member of the Varsity women’s field hockey team for four seasons, Sarah earned an athletic scholarship her senior year for her leadership and dedication both on and off the field. Sarah described bringing the “Who runs the world? Girls” Baldwin mentality to her team.
A huge sports fan, she also worked part-time for the Athletic Department as a statistician and social media specialist for the women’s basketball team.
She was frequently recognized as an exemplary scholar-athlete because she somehow managed to do it all. And to do it exceedingly well. Sarah reflects, “Being a Division One athlete at Duke taught me how to be a part of a team, a mission, that was bigger than myself or anything I could achieve alone. Competing in the ACC while conquering an engineering degree taught me about my limits, my strengths, and that special word - resilience. I am a much stronger, more determined person because I challenged myself.”
After graduating, Sarah attended the Georgia Institute of Technology as a member of the Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory pursuing her Masters in Aerospace Engineering. Her program included a year-long grand challenge project, in which students work as a team applying the knowledge that they have gained in their courses to solve a complex systems design problem for one of the top aerospace companies, such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, GE, and NASA.
And at age 24, Sarah began working as a Flight System Systems Engineer on the Europa Lander project at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. She explains, “Europa is a moon of Jupiter that is a high candidate for life, based on the fact that there is a subsurface ocean underneath an icy crust. Scientists debate whether it is a primordial version of Earth. My job entails working with all the different subsystems (Power, Thermal, Mechanical, Telecomm, etc.) in order to develop a flight system design (anything that flies to Europa). If this project finds signatures of life on Europa, it will be one of those career-altering, life-defining, history book-changing kind of events.”
Sarah credits her mother as her biggest role model. “Because she was a successful engineer and businesswoman, I never questioned pursuing an engineering degree. Now that I am immersed in the engineering industry, I realize that she was my only example. I hope to help future women feel the same nonchalance about becoming an engineer that my mother inspired in me.”
She reminds first-year women about gratitude and perseverance. “On my first day at JPL, I felt overwhelmingly grateful for all of the sleepless nights spent on seemingly unsolvable engineering problems because it got me to my dream job. Figure out what you really want and start working towards it every day.”