AIAA members soar to new heights

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics connects Comets to company tours, career prep and networking opportunities

Anish Paudel | Mercury Staff

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As the only aerospace club at UTD, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics creates a supportive community for all members to pursue their passions within the field; it also helps members reach their professional goals through projects and networking opportunities.  

After UTD’s chapter was created in 2016, AIAA has seen vast growth in membership since the COVID-19 pandemic, now having over 200 active student members. AIAA runs four technical divisions which allow members to explore different aspects of aerospace: Drone Engineering, Rocketry, Aviation and Aerospace Research. Members can join any division they are passionate about, allowing members to build pride and identity through the projects they pursue. With AIAA giving members unique projects, company tours and career prep as well as chances to network with aerospace professionals, a majority of AIAA members who graduated in 2023 ended up in the aerospace industry.  

Electrical engineering junior and AIAA President Kevin Debord said the club’s biggest draw is that students and alumni can succeed anywhere within the engineering world based on the skills picked up in AIAA. 

“Our projects, when it comes to the UT Dallas student body, have built an unshakable community,” Debord said. “A lot of [AIAA members] come into this club with no idea what they want to do, who they are, why they’re here and by the end of it, oftentimes they create a bond stronger than anything they could have done in a class. We have a very tight-knit community even though we’re so big, everybody really loves what they’re doing here.” 

Gabriela Castaneda, a mechanical engineering junior and current AIAA mechanics lead, said she was able to find her passion for engineering by applying her skills practically in the club.  

“When I found that AIAA did these projects and I got involved with [Aviation] … I found that I really liked it,” Castaneda said. “I liked trying to solve these problems … it seems like we all didn’t know what we were doing so then you go home, and you research a bunch about planes and then you come up with a solution. It’s very satisfying as an engineer to be able to problem solve in real life and then see it in competition come to life, and then you’re like, ‘Wow, that was worth it.’”  

Castaneda said AIAA helps members by providing them with the tools to solve real-life problems in the aerospace industry. AIAA has hosted events like a modeling and control systems workshop in fall 2023 and a tour of the Bell Flight test facility, building members’ skills and introducing them to the real day to day of aerospace jobs.  

With AIAA having psychology majors building rockets to ATEC majors managing the marketing team, Debord said he believes AIAA is one of the most inclusive clubs on campus, with a space for everyone. Passionate members from all disciplines support one another in reaching their academic goals.  

“It’s largely a group effort,” said Logan Murray, mechanical engineering junior and AIAA Rocketry director. “We have an enormous officer staff within AIAA, everyone all does their part … and I think that’s why our club is gaining so much traction right now and growing so fast, because there’s so much to do … and there’s been multiple times when people have committed long, long hours to working on these projects, and really making an impact on something that isn’t necessarily towards schoolwork. It just means something personal to them.” 

Within the four divisions, AIAA’s Aviation division allows members to gain experience in fixed-wing aviation and aircraft design, according to UTD’s AIAA website. The Rocketry division provides rocketry education projects and competes in the international Spaceport America competition, and the Drone Engineering division is involved with aerial robotics.  

“A really important part about managing an organization is determining where you can optimize and part of how we optimize is through division, which allows people to not only gain more experience, but it allows people to work on things that they really want,” Debord said. “It gives them an identity within the organization. When we have big events, socials or whatever else, [members] can say, ‘I’m in rocketry,’ and then the guy next to them [can say] ‘Oh, I’m in drones,’ and that gives them a sense of pride and identity in what they work with.” 

AIAA brings together members from all different schools — including JSOM, ATEC and ECS — providing a new support system to those who join. Murray said that when he took a step back from baseball, the AIAA community provided helped him grow within his engineering pursuits. 

“AIAA really gave me the community of people that I boast about so much, where it’s just this group of really social engineers that beat the social stigma that people have,” Murray said. “Just think about it, you’re having to go out of your way to go somewhere and hang out with people, you’re going to get a good crowd, you’re going to get a very smart, interactive place to be where you have a really good time. So, my own personal journey has just been building the club, helping it grow and really exposing people to the joy that I felt when I first joined and I had that community that supported me.”  


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