Patti Grace Smith Fellowship — Empowering Black Excellence in Aerospace

First Mode is honored and delighted to be a part of the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship program. Created in 2020, the program is designed to combat the longstanding and well-quantified under-representation of Black and African-American employees in the US aerospace workforce.

Today, the inaugural class of Fellows was announced with 43 extraordinary undergraduates. First Mode will welcome two of these outstanding individuals to our team this summer: Niya Hope-Glenn and Hermon Kaysha.

About the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship

Though the aerospace industry has made important strides since the days when African-Americans were legally barred from studying in many universities and holding many positions in the aerospace workforce, there is still a great deal of progress to be made. While African-Americans make up 13.4% of the US population and 15.3% of American undergraduate and graduate students, a recent study conducted by Aviation Week Network found that only 6% of US Aerospace and Defense workers and only 3% of aerospace executives are Black.

Patti Grace Smith Fellows each earn a challenging internship at one of the nation’s leading aerospace firms, a living wage, two hand-picked personal mentors, and a cash grant of approximately $2,000 to go towards professional or school expenses.

“The Patti Grace Smith Fellowship exists to serve extraordinarily talented students who possess everything that is needed to thrive in aerospace, but who come from a community where talent has long been overlooked by our industry,” said Col. B. Alvin Drew, Jr., (USAF, Ret.), a two-time Space Shuttle astronaut and a co-founder of the Fellowship. “These new Patti Grace Smith 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. The level of interest we received from applicants, and the caliber of the students who’ve made it through three intense rounds of selection show beyond a shadow of a doubt the incredible impact that Black excellence can, has, and will make in aerospace.”

The program, which is based closely on the award-winning Brooke Owens Fellowship, was founded by Drew, undergraduate student and Brooke Owens Fellowship alumna Khristian Jones, aerospace engineer Tiffany Russell Lockett, and aerospace executive Will Pomerantz. The program’s name was chosen to honor a beloved aerospace industry leader who overcame a system of legalized racial segregation: as a young girl, Patti Grace Smith (then Patricia Jones) was one of a dozen Black students to integrate Tuskegee High School, and was a plaintiff in a landmark case that integrated the public schools in Alabama, as upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States. Her illustrious career was highlighted by her role leading the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation in the early days of the nation’s space renaissance.

Learn more and meet all 43 Patti Grace Smith Fellows!

Want to work with us? We’re hiring! First Mode draws on the exceptional talent and creativity of its multidisciplinary team to solve the toughest problems on and off the planet. Check out our open positions in Seattle and Perth.