A Conversation With ‘The Space Gal’

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With multiple advanced degrees in aerospace science, Emily Calandrelli could have had her pick of any project in earth and space science. Instead, she has chosen to use her skills in science policy and communication to break down complex science topics, advocate for women in STEM fields, and bolster enthusiasm for the next generation of scientists through her own Netflix show and an active slate of social media accounts. Emily’s platform is huge, but it's one that she wholeheartedly embraces.

In this interview with the I-Connect007 Editorial Team, Emily talks about her unconventional entry into science, what’s ahead for space commerce, advice for industry leaders, and what she really thinks about going into space.

Michelle Te: Emily, thank you for joining us today. I understand you didn’t really have a traditional path into science. How did you get into a STEM field?

Emily Calandrelli: I’m from West Virginia, and I am the first person in my family to pursue a degree in STEM. Growing up, I didn’t have anybody I knew who was a scientist or an engineer. But as a very practical high school senior, I Googled every college major and looked at each one’s starting salary—that’s how I chose to go into engineering. A lot of my peers in the industry have these beautiful stories of taking apart a radio when they were a kid or going to a rocket launch, but my path was different.

My dad grew up in poverty and worked his way up to middle class, which is how my family grew up. With that legacy in the back of my mind, my priority was getting a good job. That’s how I chose engineering. But once I was in the field, I learned about all the incredible adventures I could have as a student in STEM. I was able to join Engineers Without Borders and traveled to Mexico with a project. I lived in China and got paid to do research there for three months. I worked at NASA and traveled the country doing internships and research, and I got paid for it all.

That was absolutely surprising to me. I didn’t realize how many adventures you could have. My story is one of reluctantly joining this industry, then enthusiastically staying and sharing everything I’ve learned about it with other kids like me. That is where my passion for communication comes from.

Dylan Nguyen: You talked about the issues with women in STEM fields in your keynote. What advice do you have for young girls going into a STEM career?

Calandrelli: What has benefited me the most has been having a strong-knit group of women who are also in STEM. As a woman in this field, you will face challenges or simple annoyances, or sometimes larger issues, and it is so incredibly helpful to have a community of like-minded people who have gone through similar challenges to help you get through those things.

To read this entire interview, which appeared in the 2023 issue of Show & Tell Magazine, click here.


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