NEW ORLEANS — A modern-day, “Hidden Figure,” 24-year-old Tiera Fletcher, a structural engineer for Boeing in New Orleans, is paving the way for those underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field.
“I’m a triple minority,” she said. “I’m a young, Black female in this field of aerospace engineering. I’m not exactly what you call the ‘common face’ in aerospace engineering or NASA or at Boeing.”
Fletcher plays a key role in helping to design an engine that will one day power a 188,000-pound, 322-foot tall rocket that will send astronauts back to the moon and to Mars.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience,” she said. “I understand that I have the responsibility to open the gates wider for the upcoming generations of young, females of color as well and I take that very seriously.”
Minorities have always been underrepresented in STEM fields. Fletcher discovered her passion for aerospace engineering through a Wykeham Martin elementary school program in Marietta, Ga. “I had the chance to explore what engineering was through that program because I had never heard of it before,” she explained. “I found out what aerospace engineering was and I’ve just been attached ever since. I just fell in love.”
A native of Mableton, Ga., and an alumna of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she earned a 5.0 GPA studying aerospace engineering, Fletcher is making history for young Black girls interested in working in the aerospace industry. She utilizes her knowledge and resources to re-define the status quo for women in the competitive, male-dominated field of engineering. She also advocates for Boeing where she laid her foundation as a college intern.
“It’s an awesome company and I’m so glad that I took the time to research and figure out exactly what they offer,” Fletcher said. “I would urge college students to take a little bit of time to research various companies that are out there verses the ones that you just happen to be familiar with.”
While interning at Boeing in 2015, Fletcher met her future husband, Myron Fletcher, who is a rocket scientist. The pair are practically inseparable.
“I looked at her and I was like, ‘that’s my wife. I’m talking to my wife,’” Myron Fletcher said in recalling the day the two were introduced by a colleague.
According to a 2015 study by the National Science Board, women accounted for only 9% of the workforce of mechanical engineers, and about 10% to 13% of the workforce of electrical and computer hardware engineers and of aerospace, aeronautical and astronautical engineers.
“I actually have one other African-American (female) engineer on my team,” Fletcher said. “It’s an exciting thing because it’s not something that you really come by because in Huntsville (Ala.), I was the only one, period. And when I was doing my previous position as task leading, I was the only one, only female, only Black everything.”
The couple recognizes the lack of diversity in the STEM fields and chose to make a difference on a global scale.
In January 2017, the aerospace fanatics founded a non-profit organization entitled, “Rocket with The Fletchers,” an online initiative designed to invest their knowledge into the minds of others and spread awareness about STEM careers.
“We started ‘Rocket with The Fletchers’ because we thought that there was a need in our community in particular and other communities as well, of just motivation and exposure,” she said. “Those are two components that many children don’t have at a young age or even in their adulthood.”
For the past two years, the couple have conducted online speaking engagements with elementary schools, universities, churches and prisons inside and outside of the U.S. They have used their success stories as a platform to inspire and educate others.
“As young, African-American aerospace engineers ourselves, we’re able to tell the younger generations coming up “Look, you can do it too,” she said.
Myron also offers tips and advice to young men struggling to choose their college degree and preaching the importance of financial literacy. “Right now, me and wife wife are funding the company ourselves,” he explained. “We give back more than we get … If you say you love something, you spend time with it...When we make money we spend our own money to help people.”
The National Girls Collaborative Project has resources in Los Angeles for girls to pursue fields in STEM. The National Society of Professional Engineers is also a reputable resource for women and girls. Currently, Tiera Fletcher is also a part of EngineerGirl.org, a website designed to educate girls and women about engineering. Similar to The Rocket with The Fletchers foundation, web users can become versed in the extensive careers in engineering, the female trailblazers and the impact it has on technology.
“We give kids the opportunity to reach out to us and form mentorships and help them through their academic life, through their personal life, through their development so that they can be the best that they can be,” she noted.
While juggling a full-time career as a structural engineer and co-founder of Rocket with The Fletchers foundation, Fletcher is working on publishing a book, tentatively scheduled for 2021, to showcase 12 women doing great things in engineering and a span of other sciences.
“We do realize that we are African Americans and in a child’s eyes, when they see someone who looks like them, they have a stronger connection,” she said.
— (Our Weekly)