At the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), students excel in many fields. Madeleine Pollack, a third-year ISyE major, is one such outstanding student. She was recently selected for this year’s class of the Brooke Owens Fellowship, a nationally acclaimed nonprofit organization that seeks to provide opportunities in the aerospace industry to undergraduate women and other gender minorities. Fellows, affectionately nicknamed “Brookies,” receive summer internships and are matched with executive-level mentors in the industry. Two other Georgia Tech students – aerospace engineering majors Emily Ku and Catherine Liu – were also selected.
Pollack first heard about the fellowship through the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). A fellow SWE member had just completed the fellowship, and her high praise for the experience piqued Pollack’s interest in applying.
“She had expressed how this network had, professionally and personally, really uplifted her, and in industries like [aerospace], that can really make a huge difference,” Pollack said. The fact that this “Brookie” was studying electrical engineering made her realize the fellowship was not just for students with a technical background in aerospace.
Since she was a child, Pollack has been fascinated by space, often looking at the stars and planets with her family through her father’s telescope. The total solar eclipse of August 2017, dubbed the "Great American Eclipse" because it spanned the entire United States, is a fond memory of hers. At the time, she and her family traveled to Greenville, South Carolina to view the eclipse at 100% totality.
“When the solar eclipse happened, we were only about an hour away from totality,” Pollack said. “So, we took the day off from school and went, and it was one of the most incredible experiences.”
Originally, Pollack was unsure how she could become involved in aerospace as an industrial engineer, but she learned through applying for the fellowship that they have accepted a range of majors in the past, including business, liberal arts, computer science, and industrial engineering.
“The space industry is larger than I realized,” she said. “Even though I'm not a physicist or an astrophysicist, or an aerospace engineer, there is a space in the industry that I can contribute to.”
As part of the fellowship, Pollack will be interning remotely this summer for Space Capital, a venture firm based in New York City. Space Capital invests in technologies such as GPS, geospatial intelligence, and space-based communications, exciting frontiers for start-ups. Pollack is passionate about entrepreneurship and is already working in a marketing role at Augment Health, a startup co-founded by three Georgia Tech biomedical engineering students. However, she is thrilled to be exposed to the flip side of entrepreneurship at Space Capital, hoping to learn about the process of funding a startup and what investors look for. Her long-term dream: to someday found her own startup.
The Brooke Owens Fellowship experience includes a summit held at the end of the summer involving activities such as team projects and Q&A sessions with industry leaders. Though the event will be virtual this year, Pollack is excited for the opportunity to meet the other fellows.
“One of the great things about the fellowship isn't just that you get an internship, it's that you have this incredible network,” she said. She is also looking forward to connecting with her mentors, especially since she is new to the aerospace industry. “I think one of the biggest challenges, especially to women and gender minorities in STEM, is having good mentorship,” she said.
Mentorship from faculty at Georgia Tech has already tremendously impacted her college career. Pollack met Damon P. Williams, lecturer and advisor at ISyE, through his Probability with Applications course, and he quickly became one of her favorite instructors.
“He was one of my recommenders and someone who encouraged me even when I didn't think I would be a good candidate for [the fellowship],” she said. “Since then, I've continued to have really wonderful professors who have been very involved in talking with me about my future career plans and what my path could look like as I progress through ISyE.”
Pollack originally chose to study industrial engineering because of her interest in the fields of operations research and applied math, a field in which she would like to pursue a doctorate degree after her undergraduate studies. Operations research – one of several concentrations in the ISyE B.S. degree – is an applied science that provides mathematical foundations for industrial engineering modeling including optimization, stochastic modeling, and statistics.
Through her internship, Pollack is excited to be exposed to the many applications of operations research to aerospace and data-type problems, which will help her pinpoint different career trajectories. Her acceptance to the fellowship is a testimony to the strength of Georgia Tech’s ISyE program; the broad range of concepts and skills acquired as an ISyE major allows students like Pollack, who have multiple career interests, to thrive.
Pollack’s biggest takeaway from winning the fellowship is to not hinder her own success with self-doubt, as she almost did not apply. She encourages other students to not let the fear of rejection get in the way of pursuing opportunities that might initially seem out of reach.
“I often think that we, as people, tend to be our own worst critics,” she said. “The biggest thing that I learned was to not be [my own] limiting factor.”
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering