As far back as she can remember Laura Segarra ’22 has always been drawn to space, science and mathematics. She still has her elementary school books with colorful illustrations of the universe. She laughs about almost setting the kitchen on fire in a combustion experiment. And she has vivid memories of being at her grandmother’s farm in upstate New York to catch a glimpse of Halley’s Comet and see the Milky Way.
In elementary school, she did math puzzles for fun. In high school, she tinkered with her own car, curious to know how it worked. And then one day, at the request of a friend, she participated in Upward Bound, a federally-funded educational program (now known as TRiO), hosted at Wilkes University which gave her aid. to prepare for college and the inspiration and guidance she needed to take the next step. . Within a few years, Segarra had earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, then an MBA in aviation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and embarked on a career in space exploration that she could only have imagined.
Last week, Segarra – a first-generation student – took the next step in her educational journey by taking the early stage to accept a doctorate in industrial engineering, while making history as the recipient of the 400,000e degree that UCF has awarded since classes began in 1968. The total number of degrees awarded includes more than 63,000 master’s degrees and more than 7,000 doctoral degrees.
About 78,000 degrees have been, like Segarra’s, in STEM fields; 75,000 in business; 50,000 in education; 48,000 in engineering, computer science and optics; and 47,000 in health professions, including nursing.
The number and types of degrees awarded correspond to hundreds of thousands of graduates who have unlocked their potential by advancing their careers in critical Central Florida and state industries, fueling economic growth, earning billions of dollars in wages they inject into the economy and by developing the innovations and creative works that propel large-scale prosperity for our region and our state.
“I’m extremely honoured,” Segarra said. “To me, this represents the ever-increasing opportunities for all present and future female engineers. Through UCF and its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and partnership with the academic and industry community, the ability to achieve personal and professional dreams and goals through education is accessible to anyone with the ambition and determination to do so.
Segarra began his career at Kennedy Space Center in 2001, as an engineer working for United Space Alliance, NASA’s prime contractor for the Space Shuttle program. There, she was responsible for the readiness of orbiter airframe structures – ensuring that the structural and interface components of the subsystem were maintained and prepared for human spaceflight missions. It was hands-on, highly detailed work that included repairs and modifications to the spacecraft.
“I’ve walked almost every inch of the orbiter,” Segarra says.
Two years later, when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board, Segarra was asked to be part of the investigative team to help determine the root cause of the accident. She spent months examining the integrity of all repairs and structural modifications to the spacecraft and identifying, cataloging and mapping the more than 82,000 pounds of recovered debris. The team would continue to recommend and implement a series of corrective actions to help get the remaining Space Shuttle fleet back into the air. The tragedy “helped me understand why technical security risk assessment is so important,” Segarra says, and was a powerful reminder of why “it’s everyone’s responsibility to make security the top priority.”
The experience would also prepare her for future roles with NASA, including managing integrated build and launch readiness operations for the Ares IX test flight, then managing processing and recovery operations at the ground, including serving as NASA Vehicle Manager for Space Shuttle Atlantis, the last shuttle in NASA’s fleet to fly in space.
Segarra’s many years in systems engineering and operations would later evolve into a coveted program management role at NASA under the Commercial Crew Program. She served there for the past decade, working with several American companies to achieve the first-ever commercial human spaceflight to the International Space Station and thereby restore the ability to transport humans to and from low Earth orbit to the States. -United. With CCP since its inception, Segarra has been instrumental in initially establishing the program’s organizational structure and strategic goals, and then building partnerships to work closely with commercial vendors to access the space and to guarantee the safety, reliability and profitability of operations. The sixth crewed mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to take place in September 2022.
“During my time at UCF, I found a village of faculty and support staff who taught me to think critically and conduct sound scientific research that will undoubtedly advance the field of management. program.” — Laura Segarra ’22
Segarra received a KSC graduate scholarship to start as a doctoral student at UCF. College was her school of choice because of the flexibility needed while she pursued her professional responsibilities, and her brother and sister-in-law are alumni.
“I knew it was a great school,” Segarra says. “During my time at UCF, I found a village of faculty and support staff who taught me to think critically and conduct sound scientific research that will undoubtedly advance the field of management. I have benefited from working with a panel of knowledgeable experts in technical program management in the public aerospace industry I have had other opportunities to continue to advance research in this area of study and I look forward to applying the insights gained during this doctoral trip to my work at NASA and future collaborations to advance theoretical and practical knowledge in this important field.”
UCF’s ties to NASA run deep. Located just 50 miles from KSC, the university was created in part to meet the needs of the space program. About 30% of KSC employees are alumni. Students complete internships with NASA’s Pathways program. And UCF professors collaborate with NASA on research ranging from exploring new areas of the moon to designing charged “power suits” for electric vehicles and spacecraft.
“NASA and the Kennedy Space Center have benefited from the strong relationship we have built with UCF over the years. This ongoing partnership has been instrumental in helping us build our pool of early career employees and internship program participants. UCF is an exceptional partner in the development of the Artemis generation,” said Mai Miller, NASA Pathways Program Coordinator.
Kelvin Manning ’02MS, deputy director of KSC, was one of the summer 2022 speakers. “You are a graduate of the University of Central Florida, an institution with roots in our nation’s space program, founded to provide a talented people to meet the challenges of space exploration,” said Manning. “Space has always brought hope to many, the promise of a better future. And today, UCF continues to not only look to the stars, but to create superstars like you to provide the talented workforce to serve the world in so many, many capacities.
For Segarra, pursuing his doctorate. was an opportunity for her to fill a knowledge gap in her field. His thesis explored project and program management in the public technical aerospace industry and assessed the systems and practices in place at the Federal Aviation Authority, Department of Defense (DoD), and NASA. The DoD has already incorporated the results of its research into some of its training programs and practices.
“Whatever I do, I have to have a positive impact,” says Segarra, who plans to teach later in his career.