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Meet Nigerian Dr. Wendy Okolo a trailblazing NASA aerospace research engineer retwtr.com

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Wendy Okolo

Description

Wendy A. Okolo is a Nigerian-American aerospace engineer. She was the first Black woman to obtain a doctorate degree in aerospace engineering from University of Texas at Arlington. Okolo later became an aerospace research engineer at NASA Ames Research Center. Wikipedia

Dimager Wendy A. Okolo is the first black woman to obtain a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington and the 2019 winner of the BEYA Global Competitiveness Conference award for the most promising engineer in the United States government.

Nigerian born Dr. Wendy Okolo is an aerospace research engineer at the Ames Research Center, a major National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) research center in California’s Silicon Valley. Okolo. NASA is the U.S. agency responsible for the civilian space program, aeronautics and aerospace research.

Okolo works as a special emphasis programs manager in the Intelligent Systems Division of the Ames Research Center. According to Black Engineer, she is currently leading work on a System-Wide Safety (SWS) project, and a Space Technology Mission Directorate Early Career Initiative (STMD-ECI) project. The SWS project involves predicting GPS faults in unmanned aerial systems commonly known as drones. While the STMD-ECI project, aims to develop unconventional control techniques for deployable vehicles, to enable precision landing and improve maneuverability during the entry, descent, and landing phases of spaceflight.

Her past is just as impressive; at only 26 years old she became the first black woman to obtain a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington, where she earned both her undergraduate and doctoral degrees.

In her undergraduate she was president of the society of women engineers in the university and as she pursued her graduate degree, she worked as a summer researcher from 2010 to 2012 in the Control Design & Analysis Branch at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Where she worked with the team that flew the world fastest manned aircraft which flew from coast to coast in a jaw dropping 67 minutes for a trip that could take some of the world’s fastest aircrafts over five hours.

Speaking to the Cable about the experience, Okolo said she had to battle impostor’s syndrome when she found out she would be working with such a great team.

“I was like I am sure these guys are so smart, what am I going to bring in,” she said. She went on an error in the code in the systems and she fixed that and “that fixed the impostor syndrome for a while”.

Further to these accomplishments her previous research has been recognized and funded by the Department of Defense through the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship; Zonta International, through the Amelia Earhart Fellowship; and the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics through the John Leland Atwood Graduate Fellowship.

Now Okolo has a blazing career at NASA and this year won the BEYA Global Competitiveness Conference award for the most promising engineer in the United States government.

The BEYA Conference itself strives to create connections between students, educators and STEM professionals while facilitating partnerships with individuals and their local STEM resources. A fete that matches with Okolo’s aim to continue encouraging girls to pursue their dreams in STEM.

NASA Biography

Dr. Wendy A. Okolo is an aerospace engineering researcher in the Intelligent Systems Division at NASA Ames Research Center. Her focus is in the area of systems health monitoring and control systems design with applications to air and space components, vehicles, and systems. To that effect she is a Sub-Project Manager for the System Wide Safety Project, leading a team to develop the technologies that will enable the safe and seamless integration of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the U.S. national airspace. She also leads a controls team on a Space Technology project, Pterodactyl, to advance the guidance, navigation, and control capabilities that will make precision landing for deployable entry vehicles a reality for planetary exploration.

She received her B.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2010 and 2015 respectively. During her undergraduate studies, she interned for two summers with Lockheed Martin working on NASA’s Orion spacecraft, first in the Requirements Management Office in Systems Engineering and then with the Hatch Mechanisms team in Mechanical Engineering. As a graduate student she worked as a summer researcher from 2010 to 2012 in the Control Design & Analysis Branch at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

Her dissertation research was in the area of aircraft formation flight as a fuel-saving method of flight, working in the Computer-Aided Control Systems Design Laboratory. Specifically, she employed alternative trimming mechanisms such as internal fuel transfer and differential thrusting to trim induced aerodynamic moments on the trail aircraft, reduce the need for the drag-inducing control effector deflections, and increase the benefits of flying in formation. This research was funded by the AFRL, Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), American Institute for Aeronautics & Astronautics (AIAA), Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC), Zonta International, and the University of Texas at Arlington.

Publications

  1. Margolis, B., Okolo, W., Barton, J., Nikaido, B., Zane, H., Johnson, B., D’Souza, S.,“Controller design using Linear Matrix Inequalities for Lifting Nano-ADEPT with Aerodynamic Control Surfaces”, Submitted to the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington, DC, October 21 – 15, 2019
  2. D’Souza, S., Okolo, W., Nikaido, B., Yount, B., Tran, J., Margolis B., Smith, B., Cassell A., Johnson, B., Hibbard, K., Barton, J., Hays, Z., “Developing an Entry Guidance and Control Design Capability using Flaps for the Lifting Nano-ADEPT”, Accepted to 2019 AIAA AVIATION Forum in Dallas, TX.
  3. Okolo, W., Margolis, B., Barton, J., Nikaido, B., Zane, H., Johnson, B., D’Souza, S., “Stability Analysis and Control Design for Lifting Nano ADEPT with Aerodynamic Control Surfaces”, Submitted to the 16th International Planetary Probe Workshop in Oxford UK, July 8 – 12, 2019
  4. Okolo, W., O’Connor, M., Spirkovska, L., and Soyfer, H., “Identification of Safety Metrics for Airport Surface Operations”, AIAA paper, Proceedings of the AIAA Aviation Forum in Atlanta, Georgia, June 25-29, 2018
  5. Snyder, S., Barton, B., Morelli, E., Frost, S., Teubert, C., and Okolo, W., “Online Control Design for Learn to Fly”, AIAA paper, Proceedings of the AIAA Aviation Forum in Atlanta, Georgia, June 25-29, 2018
  6. Okolo, W., Dogan, A., and Blake, W., “Ride Quality within Conventional and Delta-Wing Aircraft in Formation Flight”, AIAA Journal of Aircraft, v. 55, no. 4, July-August 2018, pp. 1592-1604, doi: http://arc.aiaa.org/doi/pdfplus/10.2514/1.C034754.
  7. Okolo, W., Dogan, A., and Blake, W., “Alternate Trimming Methods for Trailing Aircraft in Formation Flight”, AIAA Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics, v. 38, no. 10, October 2015, pp. 2018-2024, doi: http://arc.aiaa.org/doi/pdfplus/10.2514/1.G000574.
  8. Okolo, W., Dogan, A., and Blake, W., “Effect of Trail Aircraft Trim on Sweet Spot in Formation Flight”, AIAA Journal of Aircraft, v. 52, no. 4, July-August 2015, pp. 1201-1213, doi: http://arc.aiaa.org/doi/pdfplus/10.2514/1.C032865.
  9. Okolo, W., Dogan, A., and Blake, W., “Benefits of Formation Flight of Extended Duration Considering Fuel Burn”, AIAA paper 2015-2234, Proceedings of the AIAA Aviation Conference in Dallas, Texas, June 22-26, 2015. Best Graduate Student Technical Paper Award.
  10. Okolo, W., Dogan, A., and Blake, W., “Ride Quality Within Trail Aircraft in Formation Flight”, AIAA paper 2015-3325, Proceedings of the AIAA Aviation Conference in Dallas, Texas, June 22-26, 2015. Best Student Technical Paper Award.
  11. Okolo, W., Dogan, A., and Blake, W., “Effect of Trail Aircraft Size on Sweet Spot Location for a Conventional Aircraft Pair in Formation ”, AIAA paper 2015-0011, Proceedings of the AIAA SciTech Conference in Kissimmee, Florida, Jan. 5-9, 2015
  12. Blake, W., Okolo, W., and Dogan, A., “Development of an Aerodynamic Model for a Delta-Wing Equivalent Model II (EQ-II) Aircraft”, AIAA paper 2015-0902, Proceedings of the AIAA SciTech Conference in Kissimmee, Florida, Jan. 5-9, 2015
  13. Kampoon, J., Okolo, W., Sukru, A., Daskiran, O., and Dogan, A., “Wind Field Estimation and Its Utilization in Trajectory Prediction”, AIAA paper 2015-0756, Proceedings of the AIAA SciTech Conference in Kissimmee, Florida, Jan. 5-9, 2015
  14. Kampoon, J., Okolo, W., Sukru, A., Daskiran, O., and Dogan, A., “Aircraft Input Prediction in the Presence of Spatially Varying Wind Field”, AIAA paper 2015-0755, Proceedings of the AIAA SciTech Conference in Kissimmee, Florida, Jan. 5-9, 2015
  15. Okolo, W., Dogan, A., and Blake, W., “Modified Study of Trail Aircraft Trim Effect on Sweet Spot in Formation Flight”, AIAA paper 2014-0541, Proceedings of the AIAA SciTech Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Jan. 13-17, 2014
  16. Okolo, W., Dogan, A., and Blake, W., “A Modified Analysis of Alternate Lateral Trimming Methods for Flying Wing Aircraft at Sweet Spot in Formation Flight”, AIAA paper 2014-0543, Proceedings of the AIAA SciTech Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Jan. 13-17, 2014
  17. Okolo, W., Dogan, A., and Blake, W., “Application of Sweet Spot Determination to a Conventional Pair of Aircraft”, AIAA paper 2012-4402, Proceedings of the AIAA AFM Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Aug. 13-16, 2012
  18. Okolo, W., Dogan, A., and Blake, W., “Aircraft Lateral Trim Using Internal Fuel Transfer and Differential Thrust in Formation Flight”, AIAA paper 2011-6613, Proceedings of the AIAA AFM Conference in Portland, Oregon, Aug. 8-11, 2011
  19. Okolo, W., Dogan, A., and Blake, W., “Determination of Sweet Spot for Trailing Aircraft in Formation Flight”, AIAA paper 2011-6302, Proceedings of the AIAA AFM Conference in Portland, Oregon, Aug. 8-11, 2011

Recent Grants and Awards

Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) for Most Promising Engineer in Government (2019)
NASA Ames Superior Accomplishment Award (2018)
NASA Ames Innovation Fair Winner (2018)
NASA Ames Honor Award (2018)
NASA Group Achievement Honor Award (2018)
NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) Early Career Initiative Award (2017)

Professional Memberships

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Prognostics and Health Management Society
Society of Women Engineers
National Society of Black Engineers
Phi Kappa Phi

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