Doctoral student who launched space rockets earns prestigious fellowship

Civil engineering doctoral student earns National Science Foundation fellowship

Tuesday, Jun 08, 2021 • Herb Booth : Contact

Kelly Patterson" _languageinserted="true
Kelly Patterson

Kelly Patterson, a doctoral student in the Civil Engineering Department at The University of Texas at Arlington, has earned a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship.

The Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines and provides recipients with a three-year stipend of $34,000 annually along with a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees. Participants are also provided opportunities for research and professional development at institutions and laboratories worldwide.

“I’m grateful to have received this fellowship because it’ll allow me to move to campus full-time,” Patterson said. “But the real value is in the network it provides, with access to NSF supercomputers, conferences and fellow graduate students. The support and resources I’ll have at my disposal are not as accessible in a traditional Ph.D. progression.”

Patterson holds bachelor’s degrees in astronautical engineering and mechanical engineering and was a practicing engineer for several years, first as an aerospace machinist and then as a space launch officer for the Atlas V rocket with the U.S. Air Force. She was determined to become an astronaut and was well on her way to her goal when she was critically injured and forced to retire.

After the Air Force, Patterson designed advanced aircraft systems before returning to the space launch field as the director of space launch complex construction for a private aerospace firm.

Patterson credits the immense scale of space launch complex construction with her shift in focus toward structural engineering.

“A space rocket embodies possibility; it embodies progress and opportunity,” she said. “However, beneath the awe-inspiring rocket that tens of thousands of people worked for decades to design and build sits an incredibly challenging and complex infrastructure that thousands more poured their hearts into, right along with all the concrete, to make everything the rocket stands for a reality. Infrastructure, be it the launch pads that lead to stars or the roads that lead to schools, provides opportunities and access for the future to all.”

Patterson began her studies at UTA in 2019. Her research focuses on designing, maintaining and improving critical infrastructure, and she is working with civil engineering Professor Nur Yazdani and his bridge and hazard mitigation research group.

“Kelly is an exemplary, well-rounded student and professional who has a wealth of multi-disciplinary knowledge, perspective and curiosity,” Yazdani said. “She truly deserves this award and is poised for many more achievements in coming years.”

- Written by Jeremy Agor, College of Engineering