Gael Winds


Ciarra Ortiz ‘19 Awarded Patti Grace Smith Fellowship

Ciarra Ortiz, Kennedy Catholic Class of 2019, has been awarded the prestigious Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, a program that provides internships, mentorship, and cash grants to extraordinary Black undergraduates seeking to begin careers in aerospace.

After graduating from Kennedy in 2019, Ciarra continued her education at Georgia Institute of Technology, where she is now a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Aerospace Engineering. Ciarra explained that her decision to pursue this combination of study is unique and her selection as a Patti Grace Fellow reassures her that her path is the right one.

Ciarra applied for the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship because of the lack of black representation in the aerospace industry. She saw it as an opportunity to become “a part of a community of driven Black individuals working towards the common goal of making a name for themselves in the aerospace industry with the guidance of accomplished mentors.” Ultimately, Ciarra is excited “to explore ways of combining my passion for Space Exploration and biomedical engineering.”

During her time at Kennedy, Ciarra was a member of the Science Olympiad team and an instructor in the St. Joseph CCD program offered to elementary school children after-school. This combination of love for science and desire to help people has manifested in her collegiate and professional pursuits at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Ciarra cites the ability of technologies such as prosthetics to save lives as her motivation to enter the field of biomedical engineering, while her interest in space exploration stems from her curiosity about the universe beyond earth. Science fiction bridged the gap between biomedical engineering and space exploration when Ciarra observed how the “unique medical advancements on The Expanse helped [people] survive in the cold unknown.” Despite the fictional basis of the show, Ciarra remembers her father’s encouraging words while they watched the show together: “You can be doing something like that. Helping astronauts survive in space.” 

With the support of the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship program, Ciarra is working toward a future with more humans exploring space.

Two time Space Shuttle astronaut and a co-founder of the Fellowship Colonel B. Alvin Drew, Jr. (USAF, Ret.) writes that these Fellows “inspire us with their drive, their intellect, their work ethic, and their deep commitment to advancing the state of the aerospace industry – not only in terms of our science and engineering, but also in terms of how we cultivate and honor talent in our workforce.”

Learn more about the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship at their website.

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