Leah Benson: “A Woman with a Dream”

Leah Benson's childhood dreams were filled with visions of flight. If you asked what creature she'd choose to be, she'd promptly reply, "A bird!" Her parents always encouraged her to pursue her passions, and now she's doing just that as a senior aerospace engineering student at Kent State's College of Aeronautics and Engineering (CAE). For Leah, this field combines her love for planes, space, math, and physics. Imagine her excitement upon learning that she's been selected for an internship at NASA!

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day event

Last October, Leah began sifting through the countless internship options, and one in particular caught her eye—the Aircraft Conceptual Design for Advanced Air Mobility at Langley Research Center. She knew it was a long shot given the host of extraordinary engineers vying for internships, especially in a traditionally majority-male field. However, aircraft design and electric propulsion had really piqued her interest over the past year, so she took a chance, not telling anyone.

“I wouldn’t consider myself to be extraordinary,” she reflects. “I am a woman with a dream.”

Four months later, NASA contacted Leah for an interview, albeit for a slightly different position for which she had been recommended. Having not expected to receive any response, Leah was stunned. The next day, she stepped into the interview room, determined to leave a lasting impression.

"I want to be an engineer to help change the world. I don’t understand how people can look up into the sky and not be fascinated by the nature of flight," Leah shares, her passion for aerospace engineering apparent.

Leah attributes her standout performance in the interview to her genuine enthusiasm for the field, as well as the invaluable experience she gained from her previous internship with an aerospace engineering company.

Leah anticipated waiting weeks after the interview but was surprised to receive an email from NASA offering her the position in less than a week. She remembers sitting in class, trying her best to contain her excitement. “My heart was racing,” Leah recalls. “It was an exhilarating moment. I could not believe the email that sat in my inbox.

"The realization still hasn’t hit me that I am going to be interning at NASA this summer.”

Leah Benson welds in the CAE foundry

Leah deliberated thoughtfully before accepting the internship offer. It was ultimately at the encouragement of CAE associate professor Dr. Ali Abdul-Aziz, who helped Leah build confidence and self-trust, that she recognized the significance of seizing the NASA opportunity. Now, she eagerly anticipates the chance to experience firsthand the NASA work environment and the collaborative efforts of NASA engineers. Leah's responsibilities will include working on subsonic aircraft and commercial planes, hopefully with the opportunity to contribute to the conceptual design or research of aircraft featuring electric propulsion.

Leah also hopes to develop her coding skills during the internship. Knowing that coding takes time for her to grasp, Leah looks forward to learning MATLAB and Python, as well as utilizing CAD to conceptually design aircraft. She aims to deepen her understanding of aircraft performance parameters, leveraging her current coursework to gain real-life insights. Leah anticipates honing her public speaking skills by engaging with seasoned professionals and potentially delivering presentations, welcoming the chance to receive constructive feedback to apply to future endeavors.

One of Leah’s career goals is to work for NASA, and she believes this internship will open doors for her, including migrating into NASA’s Pathways Program. She strives to work with supersonic aircraft in the future and is excited to work with subsonic planes at this internship. “I cannot wait to explore electric propulsion, vertical takeoff and landing, and the mechanical design of airplanes,” says Leah. “I suppose I am quite lucky to land an internship that combines my passion for planes and their designs.”

Leah is prepared for her internship, thanks to the resilience and support from CAE, which taught her to “Dare Mighty Things.”

She credits the supportive professors for fostering an environment where she feels comfortable seeking help without judgment. Leah values the importance of perseverance and mutual support among engineers, principles she learned during her time here in the engineering program.

Leah Benson hold two golf trophies

No stranger to excelling in majority-male environments, Leah is an avid golfer who experienced great success, qualifying for the state tournament three times. Choosing to focus her energy on academics, she still has a passion for golf and is part of Kent State’s Golf Club.

To any young girl interested in pursuing a career in engineering, Leah encourages participating in STEM clubs at school and getting comfortable in a STEM environment.

“If you fail, that does not mean you aren’t smart,” says Leah. “It means you are strong enough to try again. Keep going and keep dreaming.”

To learn more about Kent State University College of Aeronautics and Engineering, please visit www.kent.edu/cae.

POSTED: Wednesday, February 21, 2024 04:57 PM
Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2024 01:52 PM