Aerospace on an international level
As it wasn’t possible for her to study aerospace in Tunisia, she looked for programmes abroad and was accepted for a Bachelor’s programme at the University of Hertfordshire in England in 2014. After a first year of general engineering the programme allowed her to focus on aerospace. »My favourite subject is aerodynamics. I love how everything is related; how it explains not just how aeroplanes fly, but how other things like rockets and cars move through air«, she explains. »It also had a lot to do with Leo (Leonine Kunzwa), our lecturer. His passion for the material was inspiring and he really transfers that love for the subject to you.«
Heading for a career in the global aerospace industry, for Kay it was important to gain some international experience during her degree. »I had seen the aerospace industry in England, so I wanted to see how it is in Europe in order to broaden my professional horizons.« Kay completed a sandwich year between her second and third year at Hertfordshire, studying for one semester at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona and for her second semester at the HAW Hamburg, The programme at UPC was more space-related with the university boasting a partnership with the European Space Agency. One particularly exciting experience was a radio call with astronaut Mark T. Vande Hei (also known as astro Sabot) on the International Space Station.
Cabin systems and Airbus in Hamburg
Her focus at the HAW Hamburg was on civil aviation with a special insight into cabin architecture and cabin systems. We meet for the interview in the university’s Lab for Cabin and Cabin Systems and as we take a seat in one of the adjoining rooms, Kay’s spontaneous reaction is: »This was my classroom! I am really going to miss it here.« It is here that Kay took lectures in mechanical cabin systems as well as architecture of the aircraft cabin. »Before coming to Hamburg I had never thought much about the aircraft cabin. I didn’t think there was a lot of engineering in it«, she admits, honestly, »but at the HAW Hamburg that totally changed. Mechanical cabin systems was a really challenging class and it opened my eyes to the complexity of an aircraft. And I love that you can just leave the classroom and see and touch the cabin mock-ups right next door and see how everything is linked together.« As part of the class Kay also had the opportunity to visit the Airbus site in Hamburg. She saw different aircraft systems and testing equipment and also met system engineers and test operators to ask questions.
And that wasn’t the only link to Airbus during her Hamburg semester. Kay also had the opportunity to develop her own idea for an aircraft cabin. As part of “Industry design project” she was a member of an international student team developing a design for a trash compactor in the galley. The general specifications came from Airbus and her team was required to present their idea to Airbus experts at the end of the semester. »Airbus has always been a childhood dream and Hamburg gave me that opportunity even more than I expected.« The project taught her how to handle stress, to juggle different things at the same time and to listen to people. »In our team we all came from different countries and different backgrounds, so it was challenging at times, but in the end everyone was there for each other. And the connection to Airbus made it feel like a real life engineering project.«
Skills learned abroad
Leaving home to study abroad is always a big step but lets you learn skills that you wouldn’t otherwise acquire. Interacting with different cultures or studying a new language are just two ways to make your world more diverse. Kay has experienced this and more: »I have friends from everywhere and the HAW Hamburg made it really easy for us to mingle. Studying abroad has also taught me how to be more open-minded in my field. Aerospace is so big, there is so much to learn and Hamburg opened my eyes to that.«
Kay enjoyed all her classes at the HAW Hamburg, but one is particularly important. »Professor Gleine is by far the best professor I have met in all the countries I have studied in. The way he explains every little detail makes you so eager to learn more. He taught me that although aeronautical engineering is very broad, everything in it is related in one way or another, and that you should never stop asking questions until you fully understand what you are studying. This is something that will help me not only during the rest of my studies but also in my future career.«
Women in engineering
Kay has always known she was going to be an engineer and women like Ada Lovelace (English mathematician who wrote the first algorithm for computer programming in 1843) and Katherine Johnson (African American mathematician for the first NASA manned spaceflight programme in the 1960s) have been role models and examples to follow. »Ada Lovelace is really inspiring for me. She didn’t have a model to follow and yet she started something big and it changed the world. And Katherine Johnson fought against what she considered an injustice; that her name could not be on a NASA report she had worked on simply because she was female.«
When it comes to support, Kay has been lucky. Her parents have always encouraged her to follow her dreams and to believe in her abilities. She is a very softly-spoken young woman, but there is a strong sense of confidence behind the quiet façade. »I was never told I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. I would tell other girls and young women: be fearless and pursue your interests; what other people think doesn’t define you. If you love something, push for it. It is going to be challenging, but that is what makes you a great engineer.«
It is Kay’s final week in Hamburg and then it’s back in Hertfordshire to finish her degree. Her next step will be her final project on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which she is very excited about. After graduation she is planning to do a Master’s degree, but would also like to start working to get practical experience in the aerospace industry. Perhaps she will do both at the same time. And looking into the future: »I would love to help develop a Mars rover. It combines all the things that I have an immense passion for; from automated vehicles to robotics to space technology. Being able to work on something that can change the future of humanity would be just beyond phenomenal!«
Kay, it was lovely to talk to you and we wish you every success for your future in engineering.
Photo: I. Weatherall/ HAW Hamburg Cabin & Cabin Systems Lab