Flightglobal Achievement Awards 2012

Boeing Engineering Student of the Year - Undergraduate Level

Undergraduate Boeing Engineering Student of the Year

Yayu Monica Hew arrived at University of Texas in Arlington (UTA) to follow her "American dream" of studying aerospace engineering and physics - a degree course unavailable at home in Taiwan. Her ambition was to work in the space industry. However, soon afterwards she realised - as a foreigner - she would have to work that bit harder than many of her classmates for recognition, funding and plum internships.

Despite scoring maximum grades on every exam and assessment, she says she found her first two years at UTA "kind of challenging and frustrating - a lot of options were restricted to US citizens". However, she soon "accepted the fact that it was something I would just have to overcome". She decided to "enter as many academic competitions as I could to get good exposure".

It is a tactic that paid off. Her research efforts have been published in multiple papers and presentations at forums sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics among others, as well as several university gatherings. Her presentations at the regional AIAA Student Paper conference were awarded first place in 2011 and 2012.

About to start her fourth and final year, she has two jobs in addition to her regular studies - but these are not the usual waitressing or bar-keeping jobs that help pay the bills for many undergraduates. Hew makes money from tutoring and as a research assistant. It was her efforts on a key research project, more than anything, which impressed the Boeing judges.

The judges recognised Hew's "outstanding student achievements in the classrooms, extracurricular organisations and, in particular, the research laboratory". Working with a professor colleague, she has developed, built and tested an ultra-low power wireless strain gauge system for remote monitoring of structural integrity. The technology can be powered by a small photocell, and could lead to monitoring systems being deployed at a much lower cost than before.

Remarkably, Hew also finds time for sport. She performed the martial art taekwondo at a high level until she became injured, and now competes in fencing and badminton. Before progressing to study for a PhD in Europe or the USA, she hopes to take a year off to work with the Taiwanese version of the Peace Corps on engineering projects in Africa.

Ultimately, Hew wants to pursue a career in space physics, working for a private spaceflight company in the USA or on China's space programme. Her inspiration and role model, she says, is a former UTA student, the Indian-American astronaut Kalpana "KC" Chawla, one of seven crew members who died in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Boeing Engineering Student of the Year - Graduate Level

Graduate Boeing Engineering Student of the Year award

After four years of postgraduate research in the field of advanced rechargeable lithium batteries, Chinese PhD student Jianying Tracy Ji is getting a taste of how high-end science meets entrepreneurial capitalism in the USA's technology crucible, Silicon Valley.

Ji, chosen as this year's Boeing Engineering Student of the Year at graduate level, is taking a break from her doctorate studies at Washington State University to attend a scholarship programme at Singularity University, an institution set up in 2009 to bring graduates and business leaders together on short-term courses to "facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity's grand challenges". Eighty graduate students from 37 countries are participating in the summer programme.

The course has caused Ji to have second thoughts about her career path. "My interest has always been in research, and before this I wanted to become a professor," she says. "But now maybe I am thinking about setting up my own company, or going out and looking at industry. There are a lot of very successful companies here in Silicon Valley."

Ji, who graduated from and completed a Masters degree at Beijing University of Chemical Technology before heading to the USA in 2009, hopes to complete her PhD next May.

The Boeing judges recognised her "significant achievements in creating a new and novel electrolyte with ultra-flexibility and high conductivity based on a natural plant protein". Her research saw her focusing on "unique materials blending, innovative manufacturing methods and performance validation testing of soy protein, combined with traditionally used electrolyte materials".

In addition to her work on battery technology, Ji's research may also lead to innovations in the manufacture of advanced, low-density, flexible polymer foams that can save weight when incorporated into components for aircraft interiors, said the judges.

Ji, who describes winning the award as a "huge honour", was one of 50 graduate students from around the world invited to attend the inaugural World Materials Summit Student Congress in 2011.

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About The Boeing Company

Boeing is the world’s leading aerospace company and the largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft combined. Additionally, Boeing designs and manufactures rotorcraft, electronic and defence systems, missiles, satellites, launch vehicles and advanced information and communication systems. As a major service provider to NASA, Boeing operated the space shuttle and serves as the prime contractor for the International Space Station. The company also provides numerous military and commercial airline support services. Boeing has customers in more than 90 countries around the world and is one of the largest U.S. exporters in terms of sales. Headquartered in Chicago, Boeing employs more than 170,000 people across the United States and in 70 countries. Total company revenues for 2011 were $68.7 billion.