Galactic Unite announce first cohort of its Black Leaders in Aerospace Scholarship and Training Program

Virgin Galactic_BLAST
Virgin Galactic
Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
23 February 2021
Virgin Galactic has announced the first students to be awarded scholarships in the Galactic Unite Black Leaders in Aerospace Scholarship and Training (BLAST) program.

BLAST is a scholarship, mentoring and fellowship program for college Sophomore through to Senior year Black scholars pursuing STEM education with a focus on aerospace in the US.

This initiative, launched by Virgin Galactic, and supported by Virgin Orbit, Virgin Hyperloop, Planet, and AEye, will see scholars receive mentoring, paid summer internships, certified leadership and skills training, plus job placement opportunities upon graduation. Each student will receive $5000 in scholarship funding per award, which is renewable for up to three years to a total of $15,000.

In addition to the partners, BLAST will also collaborate with the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship program to provide these future leaders with an expanding network of Black peers, colleagues, and role models. The program is designed to support the next generation of Black leaders who will power the rapidly developing aerospace industry and help solve global challenges in the years to come.

At present, Black people make up 13.4% of the US population and 15.3% of American undergraduate and graduate students. However, a recent study by Aviation Week found that only 6% of US Aerospace and Defense workers are Black and when it comes to leadership positions, the same study found that only 3% of aerospace executives are Black.

Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic

As a result of this underrepresentation, the aerospace sector is missing out on the advantages brought by hiring, training, and empowering diverse groups of talented people to drive innovation. By actively creating opportunities, the goal of this collaborative effort is to support Black scholars through the academic pipeline, to a successful early career placement and inspire a more diverse and inclusive aerospace industry.

The award guarantees a paid summer internship at one of the partner companies. Each scholar will receive a mentor throughout their studies, as well as an additional year after graduation to offer support as scholars transition into the workforce. The program also includes access to specialist vocational skills sessions and monthly leadership training.

The BLAST program builds on the success of previous and current Galactic Unite scholarship programs and initiatives that have focused on opening STEM career opportunities to students around the world. Galactic Unite is Virgin Galactic’s long-standing outreach initiative that is a collaboration between company staff, the Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut community, and Virgin Unite foundation.

Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic said, “These fantastic scholars are helping to drive forward the aerospace industry, and I’m delighted to welcome them onto the Galactic Unite BLAST program as our first cohort. Diversity is a key component of innovation, and this scholarship will inject even more creativity and add extra insight into the growing aerospace sector. I look forward to seeing this group of brilliant individuals thrive across the organizations involved in this program, and hope to see them become future leaders in the aerospace industry, inspiring others to follow in their path.”

Michael Kyle, Planet’s Head of Talent and Belonging, said: “As Planet continues to invest in our own racial justice commitments, we are proud to be a founding sponsor of BLAST, providing new career pathways into space, specifically and with intention, for members of the Black community, we are in amazing company, and together we will be part of the future for change.”

Armoury Read, a scholar on the program said, "I am honored to be part of the Galactic Unite Black Leaders in Aerospace Training Program! It has been a dream of mine to contribute to making space more accessible to all and that dream is finally coming to fruition with the help of Virgin Galactic. I am ecstatic to learn as much possible from my prospective mentor and the rest of the Virgin Galactic Team. Experiences like these really do keep young engineers facing the rigors of their academic course-load motivated and passionate about the work they do."

Congratulations to the 2021 BLAST Fellows:

  • Kaylin Moss, a Junior studying Computer Science at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York

  • Amaury Reed, a Senior studying Aerospace Engineering at San Diego State University in San Diego, California

  • Taiwo-Bayonle Olayiwola, a Senior studying Aerospace Engineering at The University of Texas at Arlington

  • Mark Parent, a Junior studying Mechanical Engineering at University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California

  • Benjamin Adarkwa, a Junior studying Aerospace Engineering at University of Maryland at College Park

  • Joey Arnold, a Junior studying Electrical Engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Galactic Unite is Virgin Galactic’s long-standing outreach initiative that is a collaboration between company staff, the Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut community, and Virgin Unite foundation. Galactic Unite scholarship programs have awarded over $1million to more than 90 students globally. Presently, half of the scholarship recipients are women; and 43% recipients represent ethnic minorities, including, Black, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian and Pacific Islander.