UCF Engineering Associate Professor Seetha Raghavan has been selected as winner of the 2019 Aerospace Educator Award.

The award is given by Women in Aerospace, a leading professional organization dedicated to expanding women’s opportunities for leadership, education and visibility within the aerospace community. For the past 34 years, the WIA awards have celebrated women’s professional excellence in aerospace, annually recognizing female leaders who have made outstanding contributions in the field.

UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science Dean Michael Georgiopoulos nominated Raghavan for the award.

“I value her leadership in creating the new aerospace engineering doctoral program at UCF, the international aerospace research opportunities she’s created for her students, and her capacity for teaching and mentoring them in a meaningful way that not only makes them highly employable, but also future leaders in the field,” he said.

Raghavan said it was an honor to be recognized.

“Past winners of the Aerospace Educator Award include many of the women who have inspired me when I was growing up, like Marta Bohn-Meyer, who was NASA Dryden’s chief engineer and first female crewmember assigned to the SR-71 aircraft, my favorite aircraft,” Raghavan says.

“To imagine that I could one day be receiving an award that puts me in the midst of such amazing talent is truly surreal,” she says. “I am honored and inspired to continue giving my best always as an educator and research mentor.”

As a senior structures engineer, Raghavan spent seven years designing and executing structural upgrades for fighter aircraft and leading teams for structural repair of aircraft. She decided to leave the industry and become a professor nearly 16 years ago.

“I have always wanted to be part of creating the next-generation revolutionary, new technologies for the future of aerospace,” she says about her decision. “To imagine the unimaginable means coming up with out-of-the-box research ideas and creating a clear scientific path to obtain results. What better way to do this than working together with energetic and motivated students in an academic environment, because they are the future.”

After obtaining her doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics in 2008 from Purdue University, she joined UCF. Since then she has been conducting research into some of the most challenging problems facing the aerospace community. They include creating materials and structures that will enable hypersonic flight and next generation propulsion capabilities with a focus on reusability under the harsh environments.

Her research group investigates the mechanical behavior of promising material systems from the atomic to microscale using X-rays and lasers as they experience high temperatures and loads. This approach helps the team unravel the factors that cause materials to degrade and leads to the design of more resistant material systems for future air vehicles, she says.

Raghavan’s students are an integral part of her research and she strives to teach them not just the mechanical concepts, but also the necessary skills to be leaders in the industry.

“I’m acutely aware of how the role of an educator can be highly impactful on young people all over the world and I take the trust that students put in me, to help them reach their goals and dreams, very seriously,” she says. “I strive to instill not just scientific capabilities, but project management and leadership skills in my students. The students I mentor and teach count on me to give them all they need to become excellent researchers and engineers and that is an important responsibility to me.”

Her students’ success also speaks for itself.

Three of her students have received Fulbright awards and seven of her students have earned National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Others have received the Aviation Week 20 Twenties award as well as the Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship. Raghavan also runs an NSF-funded International Research Experience summer program. Each year four students are selected to travel to Germany and work with the German Aerospace Center so they can get a taste of international collaborations.

Her advice to other women just starting in the field?

“The key to success is to always dream big dreams,” she says. “Draw inspiration from people around you who have beaten all odds to get where they are. Never be afraid to take on a challenge and have confidence that you will succeed. Build on the support system that good mentors can provide you to achieve your goals.”

Story by Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala, UCF Today