From Graduation to Liftoff: How One Grad Launched Eleven Spacecraft

For women, working in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can be a lucrative path: women with STEM jobs earn 33% more than comparable women in non-STEM occupations. They also experience a smaller gender wage gap. Despite this, women currently hold only 24% of the jobs in STEM while representing nearly half of the United States' workforce. Providing more opportunities for women in STEM fields is considered to be one of the most important steps toward increasing gender equality. Magens Orman, a 26-year-old female engineering technician working at Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) in their aviation and aerospace division, took an unlikely path to becoming a part of that 24%.

Orman, who is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Space Operations and Program Management at Webster University, originally came to college to study fine art. In between taking classes for black and white photography at Metropolitan State University of Denver, she decided to try Introduction to Space. Before that class, she had "never really thought of [her]self as a science-y person and wasn't good at math." At the time, a profession in aeronautics seemed implausible if not impossible.

Taking Intro to Space proved to be a decision that completely altered the course of her life. As Orman participated in the class's hands-on lessons, which included sending a high-altitude balloon with a camera attached into space, it became apparent that engineering allowed her to express her passion for art in new ways. Once she began receiving the pictures those cameras took, everything changed for Orman. Being able to "see the curvature of the earth beneath the blackness of space" totally shifted her perspective: she had captured space, something that had always interested her but had previously seemed distant and inaccessible. She realized she could turn her passion into a career, "and that was it." Shortly after, she began pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Aerospace Systems Design. Not only did she take on an intellectually challenging course load, she also became an industrious and devoted member of the Department of Aviation and Aerospace Science. Soon, she was taking all aerospace classes, starting her own clubs, and working as a research assistant for Department Chair Dr. Jeffery Forrest.

When Orman became very sick during her junior year at MSU Denver, the people she was surrounded by and the joy she derived from her work were what ultimately enabled her to persevere. That year, there were periods in which she had to see doctors multiple times a week and her illness "chewed up [her] life in a way that [she] didn't know was possible." Despite this, she never once wanted to quit school. Her professors, advisers, and classmates became a vital support system, and her work as a research assistant and in the clubs she headed gave her purpose. Now, just a year and a half after graduation, she has helped launch eleven spacecraft at SNC. The seemingly small decision to take a science elective led Orman to find something that brought her joy and a place she could call home.

As a result of her experience, she encourages everyone interested in a STEM profession, especially women, to pursue their interests even in the face of self-doubt. Orman admits she "got solid Ds all the way through high school mathematics," but was not deterred by the mathematically rigorous courses required to earn a degree in Aerospace Systems Design. "Never ever get discouraged," she urges, "if you lack a skill required to make your dreams come true, there are people willing to teach it to you, friends willing to help you."

With women like Orman encouraging her peers to get involved in STEM, and governmental initiatives dedicated to increasing gender equality in STEM industries, the 24% will be on the rise as careers and spacecraft lift off.