Missouri S&T Ph.D. student named Amelia Earhart Fellow

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On July 20, 2020

Donna Jennings in the lab at Missouri S&T

Ph.D. student Donna Jennings has received an Amelia Earhart Fellowship for her aerospace research.

Donna Jennings, a doctoral student in aerospace engineering at Missouri S&T, has received a 2020 Amelia Earhart Fellowship from Zonta International Foundation in recognition of her research into satellite exploration of deep space.

Jennings is one of this year’s 35 recipients of the award, which is given to women from around the world who demonstrate a superior academic record while working toward a doctorate in aerospace-related sciences or engineering. Jennings is the third fellowship winner in four years from Missouri S&T’s aerospace engineering doctoral program. The award was established in 1938 in honor of famed pilot Amelia Earhart.

“Zonta International is an amazing organization that focuses on empowering women,” says Jennings. “I am honored to represent them by being an Amelia Earhart Fellow and look forward to continuing my graduate education, presenting my research and serving as a role model to female students in STEM.”

Jennings’ research combines two recent trends. One is a new area of research using smaller satellites, known as a “swarm,” that work together to do the job of a typical larger, monolithic satellite. The other is expanding space exploration beyond the moon, which is an interest of NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense and industry leaders. Jennings is developing techniques to determine how to deploy and manage low-cost formations of deep space satellite swarms. In order to enhance understanding of the dynamics and make satellite swarms feasible, Jennings analyzes nonlinear dynamics at key regions of interest in deep space. Then, she applies various numerical techniques to find trajectories for effective guidance to ensure that the swarm avoids collisions, meets propellant limits, satisfies sensor requirements and meets mission parameters. The swarm must also be able to control itself with little to no communication with controllers at Earth-based ground stations.

“Donna receiving the Amelia Earhart fellowship this year is a testament to her accomplishments,” says Dr. Henry Pernicka, professor of aerospace engineering, Dean’s Educator Scholar and Jennings’ Ph.D. advisor. “Last year, my student Jill Davis was also awarded this fellowship. I hope that our department will continue to attract more female and underrepresented students to our programs, particularly our graduate studies programs, as we strive to increase our research productivity.”

A fourth-year doctoral student, Jennings earned her bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Missouri S&T in May 2016. Her research interests include small satellites and astrodynamics. She is a graduate student advisor for the Guidance, Navigation and Control subsystem for the Missouri S&T Satellite Research Team.

Jennings hopes to secure a faculty position that allows her to pursue her desire to teach and conduct research and serve as a role model to other females in STEM who aspire to become leaders in their fields.

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