Sibylle Walter
Ms. Sibylle Walter
PhD Candidate, University of Colorado, Boulder
CO

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Close Up
  • Describe what you do in your current work situation.
    I currently am a Master of Science candidate, researching alternative propulsions. I have not focused on anything in particular, but have worked some with ion engines as well as liquid rocket engines.
  • Why did you choose engineering?
    Ever since I was a little girl I have had an unhealthy obsession with rockets, and specifically, how they blast off. In my undergraduate research I worked on liquid rocket engines used for space propulsion, and I am now researching interplanetary travel.
  • Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
    I went to River Hill high school in Clarksville, MD. I attended the University of Maryland, College Park and received a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering in 2007.
  • What do you like best about being an engineer?
    I love that my work makes a difference. Engineering is not generally seen as a profession in which people help each other, but that's essentially what it is all about. This laptop that I am using was engineered for faster and easier communication. The coffee machine I used to make this cup of coffee was engineered so that I can set a timer and have coffee when I wake up, without ever lifting a finger. Also wheelchairs (also motorized ones), medical equipment, toys, transportation, and even food have all been engineered to make our lives more comfortable and safer. So, although my work is applied to rocketry, maybe my engine will transport human beings to Mars, where we will learn more about ourselves and our planet, and thus I will help make a difference.
  • Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
    I am proudest of graduating from college (duh :-)). Receiving that diploma was probably the most special moment of my life, as it signified all the hard work that went into it. When I got it framed, the woman at the store was so impressed, just by that simple piece of paper. That's when I realized the weight it had behind it. With that simple piece of paper, I can do whatever I want.
  • Please tell us a little about your family.
    I am the youngest of four. My oldest brother is 10 years older than I am, and has his PhD in civil engineering. He is currently engaged. My sister has her masters in sociology, and works as an ad executive (she is 8 years older). She is married to a computer scientist, and has a wonderful baby daughter who is a genius with wooden blocks. My youngest older brother is 3 years older, and is finishing his masters in game theory, which he hopes to apply to computer software to make even cooler games. All these nerdy kids stem from my dad, who is a mechanical engineer, and my mom, a lawyer. They are the best support group I have ever had in my life.
  • What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
    My short-term goals are to get my Masters and find a cool job working with space engines. My long-term goals are, besides a puppy, a house, and a family, to leave a mark on the world and help humans pursue their love for exploration. Specifically, space exploration. I would love to be involved in the Mars expedition missions, and to make that journey faster than 6 months
  • What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
    The greatest influence on my life choices are my parents. They expected me to go to college and pursue a challenging major, which I came to expect from myself as well. After having finished my Bachelors, and spending some time being confused as to what I wanted to do with my life, they encouraged me to further my education to ensure that I would have many skills to bring to the work force. Without them, I would not be in the position I am today.
  • What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
    Don't get intimidated by the man's world of engineering. Don't think that it's all about building things and blowing things up. Engineering is about making life better for all, and is starting to have a more equal work place. Don't think that as an engineer, you will be locked into a job that requires you to build stuff. You can do whatever you want with the degree, including helping people and bettering their lives.
  • Any other stories or comments you would like to share with EngineerGirl visitors?
    Don't get intimidated by the man's world of engineering. Don't think that it's all about building things and blowing things up. Engineering is about making life better for all, and is starting to have a more equal work place. Don't think that as an engineer, you will be locked into a job that requires you to build stuff. You can do whatever you want with the degree, including helping people and bettering their lives.
  • Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
    If I am not at work, I can usually be found out and about. I have a large group of friends, some engineers, most non-engineers, who like to get together at least once a week. We have dinner, maybe go to a karaoke bar, and just generally have a good time. I also like to hermit for a few hours a week, reading books or watching movies. Currently, I am working my way through a bunch of Tom Clancy novels, followed closely by whatever fantasy books I can get my hands on. I also enjoy hiking, and take many weekends off to explore the state parks in my area.
Biography

I didn't set out to be an engineer, but I kind of fell into it. I graduated from high school in 2003 from a technology magnet program where I built an electric car. I had initially enrolled in a hospitality branch of the program where I would learn to cook, bake, and how to manage a hotel. I switched to engineering because it sounded like fun as well. There, I learned to weld, how to lay up fiberglass, and various other technical skills. After my first year I was hooked and I ended up attending the University of Maryland, College Park for my undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering. While at UMCP, I struggled a lot with the course work because it didn't make sense to me. It wasn't until I worked in a research lab and had to apply my knowledge that it started to make sense to me. From UMCP I went to General Electric Aviation where I worked on jet engine parts. I got to see a whole different world of engineering, including what to do when things are breaking in the field, how to mass produce a part, and what to think about when designing new parts. I spent three years working at GE before I decided to go back to school for my master's degree and PhD. I finished my master's degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder and am now working on my PhD. I have a NASA Aeronautics Fellowship which enables me to spend two summers at a NASA center to do research and work on my thesis. I chose to go to NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland OH where I started work on data analysis for various hypersonic vehicle (that means airplanes that go 5 times the speed of sound or more) inlets (that's the ducting that brings the air from outside to the engine).

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Education
BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park (2003) MSc in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from the University of Colorado, Boulder (2012) PhD in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from the University of Colorado, Boulder (exp 2015)
Volunteer Opportunities
  • 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 science fair judge or other temporary volunteer at a local school.
Latest Questions
  • Hiba, Khartoum

    Added Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    Hi I'm a high school senior who's interested in aerospace engineering but my maths teacher told me that it's safer to get a degree in mechanical engineering and then a master in aerospace. It's said that it's difficult to land a job as an aerospace engineer and that's what frightens me. I'm quite interested in both and am having a hard time choosing, can you please help?
    Answers 1
    Sibylle Walter, University of Colorado, Boulder
    Answered Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 12:08 PM
    Dear Hiba,
    
    First of: you should major in whatever you have the greater passion for. If you are passionate about aircraft or spacecraft, go for it. Things will fall into place. But if you're unsure, you might want to do mechanical ...
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  • Kassia, Hot Springs

    Added Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    Hello! I am a senior in high school, getting ready to apply to colleges and figure out what sort of career I want. I am not exactly sure what I want to do yet, and this is making it difficult for me to decide where I want to go. I want to either get a degree in physics/astrophysics or in aerospace engineering, and eventually get a PhD. What sort of degrees would you recommend for aerospace engineering? Would a minor in physics work? Also, do you know of any schools that would be good for ...
    Answers 1
    Sibylle Walter, University of Colorado, Boulder
    Answered Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 11:39 AM
    Hi there.
    
    Great question! In general, astrophysicists would work more on the questions like "how does the universe work?" and "how did we get here?" and "are we alone out here?". They are scientists who look at data gathered by satellites, ...
    Read More
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