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Monica Hew Has Her Mind Among the Stars

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Since she was a child, Ya-yu "Monica" Hew has dreamed of lifting off into space. Her mother, however, wanted her to be a medical doctor.

Ya-yu Monica HewMonica's aspirations are winning the battle between mother and daughter. The senior aerospace engineering and physics major became the first-ever winner of the Boeing/Flightglobal Undergraduate Student of the Year Award in 2012. She maintains a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, and is involved in several research projects in Haiying Huang's Advanced Sensor Technology Laboratory, involving sensor development, fluid dynamics and timing detector development.

"My mother wanted me to become an M.D. I want to make a difference in others' lives, but I don't want to be a doctor. I told her that I could be an aerospace engineer and focus on medicine, but I've slowly changed that into being an astronaut. Ultimately, I want to be a mission engineer with NASA, but I'm not a U.S. citizen, so it's a longer route," Monica said. "I'll probably work for a few years after graduation at a research institution. I've been training to be physically fit. I've taken scuba diving classes here at UTA and I went skydiving to prove that my body can take it. You get evaluated on grades and research, but also on your physical ability."

Although her list of accomplishments is long, college has not been easy for Monica. She grew up in Taiwan and is one of five children. Her mother graduated from UT San Antonio and urged Monica to look for colleges in Texas. UT Arlington offered her the most scholarship money, so she enrolled. With very little financial assistance from her family after her parents were drastically affected by the financial crisis of 2009, Monica took on three jobs as a freshman while taking 18 credit hours. She learned to stretch her resources to the max to conserve the little income she had coming in.

"It became a joke that I always knew where to find free food. People called me stingy, but that's how I survived on $10-20 per week. It shaped my personality significantly and I really value the scholarship help I've earned. It taught me to use my money wisely. I use it to get me to my future career goal. I met a donor and told them when I'm financially stable, I want to give back to students to help their situation," Monica recalled.

UTA's strength is its faculty. They inspire you to do things you never thought you could do.
- Ya-yu 'Monica' Hew

Monica's boundless energy and effusive personality are readily apparent, whether she is talking about her academic career and research interests or her latest extra-curricular activity.

She came to UTA as an aerospace engineering major, but later added physics after proving to herself that she could handle it. She failed the subject in high school, she says, but "everything clicked" in college and she earned perfect grades in her first class. She had considered transferring to a different university, but she enjoyed her classes in her first year and is glad she stayed.

"UTA's strength is its faculty. They inspire you to do things you never thought you could do," she said. "Dr. Spurlock in physics has helped me, and Dr. Huang is a very tough advisor. She encouraged me to compete and publish papers, and she has brought me to a lot of conferences," Monica said.

Dr. Huang's attention helped Monica during the rigorous application process for the Boeing/Flightglobal award. Past winners of the award (all graduate students) came from Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other top universities. "They want to know what each student's influence is in engineering. They also evaluate your research and publications, and your influence on your community – how you apply everything outside the classroom. My application looked like a magazine," Monica explained. "One reason I think they picked me was because my research is extensive, but I'm also able to keep up with my outside activities."

The award presentation was made at the Farnborough Airshow in Great Britain. She flew first class to the ceremony and, while at the airshow, got a private tour of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner and interviewed its test pilot. She also met aviation inventor and private space pioneer Burt Rutan and hero pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who landed a USAirways jetliner in the Hudson River in 2009. "It was a great experience, meeting those people and seeing all the latest developments in aviation. I'd seen things in magazines that I could see in person," Monica said.

In addition to the Boeing/Flightglobal award, Monica has already published two papers and presented several at national and regional conferences, winning the 1st Place award for undergraduate paper at the AIAA Region VI Student Conference in 2011 and 2012. She earned the College of Engineering's Outstanding Student Leader Award in 2012. She is involved in many student organizations on campus: the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Society of Women Engineers, Engineering Student Council, the Mathematical Association of America, Honors Constituency Council, Taiwanese Student Association and UTA Hosts. She is also on the Mavs Badminton team and the Mavs Fencing team. She is a Black Belt 2nd degree in International Taekwondo, and serves on the National Drill Team and Honor Guard of Taiwan.