Crystal Harris

Crystal Harris

Seattle, WA
Crystal Harris
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Ever wonder how those young looking people in jeans and t-shirts get those cool jobs working with the latest technology? So did I until I joined a team of Engineers working with The Boeing Company. At Boeing, I am a member of a global team of Engineers who provide support for the C-17 Globemaster. The Boeing team and I support the United States Air Force strategic airlifter ensuring the structural integrity and safety of the fleet.

2005 Aerospace Science Engineering, Tuskegee University, Graduate
  • I am willing to be contacted by educators for possible speaking engagements in schools or in after school programs or summer camps.
  • I am willing to serve as a sponsor or coach for an engineering club or team.
  • I am willing to be contacted about potential job shadowing by interested students.
  • I am willing to be interviewed by interested students via email.
Answers by Crystal Harris

As a middle school student, I could draw basic shapes and designs that most elementary school students had mastered. This is to say, art or graphic design wasn't my strongest subject. I came to realize in my studies through high school and college, that art is a benefit in aerospace industry. Being able to visualize the 3D image of a part or design ‎from a two-dimensional picture is a great advantage and skill. I can not only visualize, but I can design that object to better fit the purpose of the mechanism being installed. For example, a classmate of mine designs the interior panels for aircraft. Though he is not a graphic designer by education, as an engineer, he has the ability to design a product that is both aesthetically compatible as well as ergonomic acceptable for the customer. One good example is the overhead storage bins for modern day aircraft, like the 787 and the long range 777.

Thank you for your interest in Aerospace Engineering.  Most positions available or are related to aerospace engineering are usually regarding flight testing, space and defense systems, some structural positions as well.  Fluids, i.e. fields in oil and gas, in addition to space and aviation are also supported by aero engineers.

I would recommend for high school students to definitely take calculus I and II as these are the basic fundamentals of getting through a college level program without extra time for refresher courses.  If at all possible or if the opportunity presents it’s self, calculus III pre or advance prep is ideal along with trigonometry.  Statistics courses are essential and one of those pitfalls if you are not familiar with the level of work prior to college.  Statistics is extremely helpful in getting through engineering program.  Take as many as you can and retake as many allowed.  The other core courses like reading, writing, physics, and chemistry are good to have as well, but the math and statistics really stand out and propels the engineering student into another class of first year college students in general.  Also, computer software engineering or applied mathematical courses can be life savers during late night study sessions and crunch time.  Having a well built algorithm already on your hard drive for plotting graphs or demonstrating analytical methods is perfect.



I think you or most people who have something called “The Knack” (Dilbert Episode: is what I would consider qualifies you for any Engineering field.  The mere fact that you have interest and want to explore the different avenues in Aeronautics is half the battle.  The other half is your network.  Surround yourself with like-minded people who share your interests and together you will grow your support for what you want to do.  It may not be an instant connection, but you have to seek out those individuals/groups.  They will not come to you.  One of the sources I used in college was Society of Women Engineers,

Hi Jesame, you brought me to tears after reading your questions and knowing your frustration.  I can so relate to the struggle of knowing that something is so close and yet feels like it is so far away.  As a kid, I fell in love with the F-16 fighter aircraft.  I would dream about flying escort missions and such, but as I started high school, I realized that I had many more dreams and goals that I wanted to accomplish.  As I worked my way through my last year of high school and very few scholarships came to my doorstep, I looked toward my dream of being a fighter pilot.  My heart was broken when I was told that that I didn’t meet the strict requirements that the military wanted at the time. Now, not only could I not pay for school, I didn’t have a plan in mind.  I had a mentor and someone interested in helping me find my next step.  I was invited on a weekend trip to Tuskegee University and that’s where I saw an F-4 Phantom on display for the first time in my life.  I said, to myself that “whatever is studied in this building is what I will do; this is my next step.”  As I begin to study Aerospace Science Engineering, I met a classmate that was interested in flying too.  He invited me on a trip with him to Birmingham, Alabama.  I flew as his unofficial co-pilot/navigator.  It was the coolest trip I had ever taken in a C172.  From there, I was on my way and it was all about me.  I was introduced to the FBO, Colonel RJ Lewis and he introduced me to the best Flight Instructor I’ve ever had, Antonio Smith.  I was given a scholarship by the FBO and the local Tuskegee Airmen chapter to complete my Private Pilot’s license.  I flew every weekend and during the week when I did not have class.  I was so proud of the mentors and network I had developed and even more proud of myself.  Then, it was time to get busy and graduate.  I had to get focused on getting a job and financing more flight training, but how could I do that?  I was in that familiar place of ‘find my next step’.  A couple of months from graduation, I contacted my friend and former classmate that took me on the exciting flight to Birmingham, Alabama and asked for advice.  He asked for my resume.  The week of my birthday, I had two interviews with Boeing to join the Flight Test team in Seattle.  Talk about exciting, I was thrilled.  Now that I was working as an Engineer and flying during my off time, I started looking for the next step.  How do I put both my dreams of being a Professional Pilot and my Engineering career together as one?  I started asking about Flight Test Pilots and how to get into that group of Pilots/Engineers.  More experience as a Pilot is what I needed, so in the mean time, I’m building time and flying with my next step in mind, Flight Test Pilot.

That’s the short version of my long story, but I say all of that to show you that our passion will not allow us to rest until we do what we are supposed to do as Pilots and Engineers.  You will make it!  Yes, as you can see, I have certainly felt/feel the same way on my journey.  Keep in mind, it is just that a ‘journey’.  Your experiences/obstacles are to prepare you to ‘find the next step’.    Now, for a little more practical advice, the Women in Aviation chapters in Africa, I think are in Nigeria and Kenya.  I’m not sure of your resources of travel, but it is a great place to start looking for scholarships.  The 2015 scholarships are now available for applicants to apply.   They are competitive but are well worth the effort of at least applying.  There are also the other flight schools there, I’m sure you are familiar with SAFTA and Madiba Bay. I would recommend getting to know some local instructors looking for safety pilots or just building time. They usually enjoy the extra company in the cockpit.  Also, check out the Bessie Coleman Aerospace Legacy (formerly Bessie Coleman Foundation) may have scholarships available as well. 

Don’t Give Up and know that you are Never Alone on this Journey.

Keep’em Flying!

I encourage you to research internships/fellowships for new graduates interested in Space and Technology. I know NASA has some programs that may or may not partner with other countries for students interested in travel and Engineering, etc. I believe it’s called NASA Pathways Opportunities or something to that affect. Also, don’t forget about local/regional small companies/labs that may have internships/fellowships for short periods of time. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has a great summer internship program for student in the summer. It’s important to get out and get exposure in a field of study that you think you might want to spend a significant amount of your life pursuing.

Hello Alexis,

I completely understand your conflict. It is difficult to pin point what you would like to study within the Engineering fields. You are doing the best and most efficient thing right now in terms of getting exposure to all Engineering and Science careers. You are thinking like an Engineer! Remember to be flexible and willing to learn new/different things.

When I enrolled into college, I thought I wanted to major in Mathematics. During the first week, I had an in-depth tour of campus prior to classes starting and was awe struck when I saw the display of an F-4 Phantom outside of the Engineering building. Right then and there, I changed my major to Aerospace Science Engineering because I thought it would make me a better Pilot. I was right. Since earning my Bachelor of Science degree I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and learn so much more. I’ve learned how to be a Mechanic/Technician, Customer Service Representative, Accountant, etc.

As a Liaison Engineer, a normal day for me involves researching specific problems with a component or aircraft and writing the repair instructions to correct the problem. I also volunteer with different diversity groups to keep me involved socially with the events and projects coming up outside of my immediate workspace.

As a young African-American woman in a senior Caucasian male dominated field and company, yes discrimination exists. I am fortunate to have a thick skin about most things, but there have been sometimes where I have had to address and issue head on and wait for the outcome. Sometimes things will get under your skin and you have to make a decision if it’s worth addressing or not, but that goes with learning more about you as a person and your own limitations.

Most importantly for your college career, enjoy the learning and growing process. It is definitely a process! Take personal notes that will help you navigate lifelong choices and decisions. Try to have just a little fun!  Best of luck, I believe in you.

I actually asked one of my coworkers to comment as well, just to show a different perspective.
His comments follow below.


“Dear Alexis,

My advice to you is just keep your mind and eyes open to all the opportunities and possibilities that will open up as you pursue your passion for engineering. As a first or second year engineering student, most programs are going to be the same anyway, so you have plenty of time to decide your specialty. Focus on the basics for now, like the math and physics. As far as choosing one goes, in the real world, the boundaries between the engineering disciplines are often very fluid, and you may find yourself working and excelling outside of your discipline. I can guarantee you that there are no guarantees except that things will always change. Engineers who can adapt and work outside their own comfort zones will excel. Those who cannot or will not will struggle. Try to keep in mind that your years in high school and college are basically teaching you to learn and exposing you to concepts. Your real education begins after you graduate and there are no more textbooks; when you are on the team developing the new airliner, wonder drug, or consumer electronic item that doesn’t exist today. The point is that you might decide to go mechanical, and find yourself spending the majority of your career in aerospace, like most of my colleagues have, or any other combination you can come up with.

My day consists of problem solving in multiple disciplines, providing leadership and education for those I support as a technical specialist, and acting as a resource for management decision makers. We are mentors, judges, teachers, facilitators, technical resources, innovators and entrepreneurs.

College will be what you make of it. It can be four of the best years of your life, independence and new adulthood, or the hardest thing you have ever done. Most of the time it will be a bit of both. Just remember that college just gets you the paper that says you have been there and done what it takes to complete the program. It is just a snap shot of what was “state of the art” when you were there. Technology will march on and make most of what you learned obsolete. What will never be obsolete is the scientific approach, research skills, and task discipline college will teach you.

Discrimination can rear its ugly head, certainly, but this should not be an issue for anyone on top of his/her game. If you are good at what you do and live by the golden rule, that will rise to the surface no matter what others may do. People with bad intentions and evil in their hearts will never succeed in the end and fortunately, people like this are rather few. You may encounter this in your journey, but it is part of the learning experience and not just limited to sexism or racism. Some colleges are hostile to conservatives, for example. You may want to research discrimination at a particular school before applying there if you are concerned about this.” – Doug J.

Great question. I thought about how to respond because I wanted to give you a sense of what it means to be an Engineer. Basically, engineering is the application of knowledge to create objects or scenarios. I use Engineering on a daily basis with almost everything from figuring out what size flat washers I need to retain my car's steering panel-that keeps falling because the screws have worn through; really irritating- to repairing a component or bracket on an aircraft wing. One could also find themselves engineering an explanation to get an extension on an assignment, or if you are like my niece, a way to get out of her punishment for inappropriate behavior. Engineering, in general, is versatile. Be careful of what you call yourself or the stereotype, you may find yourself engineering one day.

I hope I was able to answer your question and please feel free to ask more.

What an awesome and eco-friendly idea. Recycling and limiting waste is a tremendous effort that requires everyone in this world to actively participate and be vigilant in making sure that others are mindful of your environment. I applaud you on a creative and inspiring effort. Well done! It is this same effort that keeps our world clean and ensures a healthy, beautiful and “stylish” long life for our future. It is also that creative thinking process that most effective leaders have in common with you all. The ability to think outside the “box” or “norm” is a huge asset and I encourage you to continue to develop those skills. Mrs. Pinn, I wonder if I could order some studs from these young innovators?

Tuskegee University has an excellent graduate degree program in Electrical Engineering as well as Mechanical Engineering. Most impressive of them all is the Material Science Doctorate degree program. Because it’s a fairly new program, there are some pretty amazing research opportunities to pursue and outstanding staff and faculty to work with you. I would encourage you to pursue either of these programs and take full advantage of the summer opportunities offered. Here is a link to the graduate program site for Tuskegee University.

Best Regards, Crystal.

I am very happy to hear that you are good in math and science, the skills you develop in those subjects will be of great benefit in the Aerospace industry. A Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering is a great foundation to the world of Aviation. In this industry the basics for success start with a good foundation regarding aerospace, patience, skill, and determination. All of those qualities are usually embodied by women. This makes aviation a natural fit for any woman if she chooses to study the profession. The difficulty does not come so much as getting the job as it does to keep the job. All women face some challenges in any male dominating sector. The key is to have the mindset that you are qualified for the job and can perform any task as well or better than anyone else. If you find yourself not equipped for something, learn what you do not know, and try it again. Remember the only chance you will get, is the chance you make for yourself. Just for reference I also showed your question to some of the people I work with. (See below) - Crystal Responses from colleagues at Boeing: In the 14 years of being an engineer; I personally have never experienced difficulty being a woman in the aerospace engineering field. Once I witnessed a woman who wanted to get special treatment because she was female. (She didn't last long because she refused to go to the aircraft). I feel that if a woman doesn't see a difference between male/female in the way she should be treated, then she will do fine. If one does their job, they are fine. Thanks. - Francis Today doors for women are opening up in every field. Don't give up on your dreams because of another opinion. It may not come easy and you may have to work harder but go for it. When I started in this field I would be the only woman and minority for years but now there are many women of every nationality, follow your dreams. - Linda No, it's not hard for women to get in the field. Because it is so male dominated, a majority of companies are looking to diversify their pool of employees by looking for qualified women engineers and engineers from different cultures to fill open job postings. During a mentor session on site with UW, one of the female students asked this same question to one of the directors from the Everett site. He stated it had been difficult to hire more women because he hasn't had many applicants. That definitely needs to be changed so I encourage you to seek that AE degree and get involved with technical organizations like SWE, SAE and/or AIAA to seek out those companies that are looking to diversify their employee base. - Stephanie I can't speak for other companies, but it seems to me that women are doing quite well at Boeing. - Vern It doesnt matter to me if an engineer is a man or woman, what matters is that they know what they're doing. I admire anyone that can make it through all of the math and other courses to get that degree. - Shelby Is it difficult for women AE to get job in any airline company since it is a male dominating sector? It is not any more difficult for women to get a job than for a man. Some of our best engineers are female. Do women face difficulties in this sector? Everyone faces problems do not let roadblocks stop you from reaching your goals. If being an aircraft engineer is your dream then go for it. - Rodrick I think that there will be challenges in any male dominated field. However, getting hired into aerospace engineering is not one of them. The quantity of women who excel in math and science and go on to pursue related degrees is very small. The corporate world is ever-changing and the need for a diverse workforce has been realized. With that being the case, increasing all types of diversity including work history, background, sex, race, etc is a priority, especially in engineering. I work for Boeing, one of the largest Aerospace companies, and I would strongly recommend that you pursue a degree in aerospace from an ABET-accredited university. With the corporate culture changing, it is much easier for a woman to gain employment in engineering. I would recommend that you seek out internships and co-ops from engineering companies in your sophomore and junior years of college to significantly improve you hiring chances immediately after college. - Magnificent

Congratulations Lacy. Job well done. Becoming an Engineer takes a good amount of effort, becoming an Aerospace Engineer is just icing on the cake. You do not have to be an Aerospace Engineer to be successful in the Aerospace industry. Attending college is an important step, and attending the right college is equally as important. You are extremely fortunate to have two great opportunities and to have your choices narrowed to two schools is exciting.

First things first, make absolutely sure that the school you choose has an Engineering program that has a stable ABET Accreditation. Triple, or quadruple check and recheck the accreditation status every year. Big Corporations like The Boeing Company will not touch you unless your degree is from a school with an unquestionable accreditation.

If I were in your shoes and because college is only going to get more expensive, by the day it seems, a full ride with Rice University is ideal. Though the University does not offer an Aerospace Engineering degree program, it does offer a Mechanical Engineering and Material Science program. This would be a smart decision for you. With any Engineering degree you are exposed to many avenues. With a Mechanical Engineering degree, you have the chance to hold true to the diversity of the industry. I read on the NASA website that an astronaut, Dr. Massimino, is an adjunct professor at Rice Univ. Attending Texas A&M University would be great. They have an excellent Aerospace Engineering program. I'm sure they have a reputable relationship with NASA. Keep in mind, getting the degree is just the beginning of becoming an Aerospace Engineer.

An Engineering degree is just the foundation of your "career house," as I like to think of it. You also have the option of "building walls, windows, roof, etc." by continuing on to graduate school, where you will probably narrow your field of interest. -or- You may also choose to work in the industry for a while before continuing to graduate school. The later gives you the hands on experience you need and will more than likely demand once you complete your "foundation." Regardless of which school you decide, always keep in mind that you not only want to graduate with the degree, but you want the experience behind the degree. Get into the different projects in your department and community as well as Internships!!!!!! These are some of the most important things a company looks for in future leaders of the industry.

Good luck and congratulations again!!!!
C. Harris