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Casey Eaton, a systems engineering doctoral student, earns Amelia Earhart Fellowship

Huntsville native Casey Eaton, a doctoral student in systems engineering at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), is one of 36 women from 22 countries to be awarded a $10,000 Zonta International Amelia Earhart (AE) Fellowship for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Eaton graduated summa cum laude from UAH in May 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering with an honors diploma, and she earned a UAH master’s degree in systems engineering in July 2020. UAH is part of the University of Alabama System.

As a doctoral candidate, she is advised by Dr. Bryan Mesmer, an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering. She says she was inspired to pursue the AE Fellowship by a friend.

“My friend and lab mate from Dr. Mesmer’s lab, Garima Bhatia, who just recently successfully defended her dissertation, received the fellowship a few years ago in 2018 when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree,” says Eaton. “Seeing her and others pursue their degrees inspired me to continue.”

The AE fellows were chosen from 183 applicants worldwide, according to Zonta International, which says that just 25 percent of the workforce in the aerospace industry consists of women. The fellowship is designed to enable talented women from around the world who are pursuing doctorate degrees in aerospace engineering and space sciences to invest in state-of-the-art equipment to conduct their research, present their research at international conferences and participate in specialized studies.

“It is a significant encouragement. I was really honored to have been selected. The fellowship will be used as I work on my degree at UAH,” Eaton says.

“This is a very prestigious award, which I think reflects the excellence of UAH’s research in aerospace and systems engineering,” she says. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to study here.”

With Dr. Mesmer’s guidance Eaton is working on two NASA-funded projects, one on the value of model-based systems engineering (MBSE) and another on project factors that lead to failure.

“Our research uses a systematic review process to identify and quantify the areas of MBSE that are perceived to be valuable, as well as areas that are perceived as drawbacks to the approach,” she says. “The second project revolves around understanding how failures are perceived and how failure data can be digitized, integrated and tracked across the agency. In this project I’ve been lucky to be able to work with a group of subject matter experts from NASA.”

Dr. Mesmer says Eaton is mentoring four undergraduate students also working on those projects.

“Through these projects, Casey has become recognized as a leader in the field of project factors that lead to failures,” Dr. Mesmer says. “She has taken full reign of the projects and is leading them to success through multiple future publications.”

The AE Fellowship is a significant step forward for Eaton, he says.

“By receiving this honor, Casey has been internationally recognized as an up-and-coming force in the aerospace arena,” Dr. Mesmer says. “Casey has distinguished herself from her peers, and deserves every bit of it.”

Established in 1938, the fellowship is awarded annually. Zonta International has awarded 1,674 AE Fellowships, totaling more than $11 million, to 1,245 women from 75 countries. Fellows have gone on to become astronauts, aerospace engineers, astronomers, professors, geologists, business owners and heads of companies, and include a Secretary of the U.S. Air Force.

Eaton says she’s grateful for the fellowship opportunity.

“Pursuing this degree is a long path,” she says, “and these reminders emphasize how important this field of study is as well as how important representation is.”

(Courtesy of UAH)