While three-time West Virginia University alumna Kerri Phillips is busy with her own career, she’s never too busy to return to her alma mater to encourage future generations of girls interested in engineering.
She did just that this summer, visiting the Statler College All-Female Engineering Challenge Camp.
“Growing up in a small steel town in West Virginia, I never really had exposure to engineering until I came to WVU and found my calling in aerospace engineering,” said Phillips, a Weirton native. “As someone who loves West Virginia, I feel a certain responsibility to come back and help expose girls to all the possibilities that await them through education.”
Phillips, who earned two bachelor’s degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 2007 and received her doctoral degree in aerospace engineering in 2011, has quite an extensive list of accomplishments in the male-dominated industry.
While attending West Virginia University, Phillips was a member of the Microgravity Research Team, president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, co-founder of the Student Partnership for the Advancement of Cosmic Exploration, president of the Engineering Student Advisory Council and a student member of the Strategic Planning Committee. She was a Swiger Doctoral Fellow, Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, USA Today All-College Academic Third Team, WVU Honors College Nath Outstanding Senior, WVU Presidential and Promise Scholar and was inducted into the Order of the Augusta. Phillips also received the Amelia Earhart Fellowship from Zonta International, which works to advance the status of women worldwide.
Phillips couldn’t help but notice in her eight years of college and extracurricular activities that there was a sheer lack of women in her classes.
“There were girls everywhere at WVU, but I only found myself sitting next to males in my engineering classes,” said Phillips, noting a recent shift in the trend. “Now, more and more women are thriving in the industry and girls are being encouraged to study STEM throughout their lives.”
Today, Phillips works in the Air and Missile Defense Sector of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Howard County, Maryland. She is the integrated systems section supervisor within the Guidance, Navigation and Control Group, and her work focuses on missile systems that help keep United States military members safe.
“I get up every day and I’m excited to go to work,” said Phillips. “I can’t think of a better, more gratifying way to spend 40 hours a week.” She also spends two nights a week with students as a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering.
Phillips hopes that exposure to seemingly intangible careers in STEM fields will help young girls in the Mountain State dream big for their futures.
“STEM exposure in rural counties may be limited to a science teacher or a doctor,” said Phillips. “If talking to a group of girls about space and airplanes can help just one of them find their calling, my time was well spent.
“WVU gave me so many opportunities and allowed me to be surrounded with people that pushed me to be the best version of myself,” said Phillips. “As an alumnus, I consider myself a part of the WVU family and we must encourage our next generation of Mountaineers to take advantage of every opportunity and help them find their passions along the way.”
CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
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