Former NASA engineer works to connect underrepresented youth to opportunities in science

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University of Michigan alumna Aisha Bowe made the dramatic leap from working in the labs of her engineering classes at the university, to working in the labs of NASA. Now she is using innovation and entrepreneurship to help other students interested in science reach similar and even greater heights.

Bowe is the CEO of STEMBoard, a technology solutions company founded in 2013 that is also committed to closing the achievement gap by empowering historically underrepresented youth to build transformational technologies.

Shortly after receiving both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in aerospace engineering from Michigan Engineering, Bowe went on to work for NASA, building small spacecraft.

Bowe said the experience working with small spacecraft as an engineering student at the university proved beneficial during her time with NASA and helped her garner recognition from her peers and leadership.

Bowe says her experience at NASA was life changing, but she had a strong desire work with more autonomy and use her technological skills to enact social change. So in 2013, Bowe left NASA and partnered with APX Labs cofounder John Martello to launch STEMBoard. The company partners with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to expose and encourage more students of color to pursue STEM careers. STEMBoard also organizes camps for K-12 students where participants can work on small-spacecraft projects at no cost.

“The idea was to have a technically proficient engineering company that also cared about social impact,” she said. “We really do our best to combine our technical proficiency with our desire to elevate the emerging workforce and the historically underrepresented by teaching them tech skills.”

Bowe credits her ability to transition to a career in entrepreneurship to the mentorship she received while studying aerospace engineering at the university. Bowe took entrepreneurship courses upon the advice of one of her mentors and teachers, Professor Thomas Zurbuchen, who is now head of the NASA Research Directorate.

“As a business owner, I am so glad that I took entrepreneurship courses when I was an engineering master’s student,” she said. “Looking back, I wish I would’ve taken even more, because you need it all. The reality is that every single member of a team performs different roles in order to get these systems off the ground,” she said. “It’s important to get all the perspectives as a leader.”

Since its launch in 2013, STEMBoard has continued to expand, with contracts in five different states and the Caribbean. Bowe has also received several awards and honors including the 2015 US Women’s Chamber of Commerce “Emerging Star” Award, NASA’s Engineering Honor Award, Silicon Valley’s National Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Women in Technology of the Year Award and The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) 21st Century Trailblazers in Aviation and Aerodynamics Award. Through it all, Bowe said she’s worked to stay true to STEMBoard’s goals and values.

“When you look at all of the things that need to get done, it can seem like multiple eight-hour days on top of each other. But Michigan prepared me for this type of work. The education I received as an engineering student and as an entrepreneur was what laid the framework to prepare me for working in this industry. The rigor of the work and the work ethic I developed helped prepare me for what it would later take for me to run a small business.”

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Story by Alyssa Brandon