Missy Cummings

Missy Cummings

Aeronautical/Aerospace Engineer
Duke University
Missy Cummings
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Missy Cummings received her B.S. in Mathematics from the United States Naval Academy in 1988 and her M.S. in Space Systems Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1994. She spent ten years in the Navy and was one of the Navy's first female fighter pilots. While in the Navy, she also worked as an assistant program manager in a Navy industrial engineering plant. Her previous teaching experience includes instructing for the U.S. Navy at Pennsylvania State University, and most recently as an assistant professor for the Virginia Tech Engineering Fundamentals Division.

I completed my Ph.D. degree in Systems Engineering in 2003 at the University of Virginia.
Answers by Missy Cummings

The best way to get Boeing or any other aerospace company to notice your ideas is to enter a design contest sponsored by your school, companies, and government agencies. Organizations like AUVSI, AIAA, NASA and many other international agencies will sponsor such contests. Even if you do not win, innovative ideas will absolutely catch the attention of judges and sponsors and it is really common for students who participate in such contests to be offered internships - even if you live in another country! 

It takes a lot of hard work to get into any engineering program but hard work is not the same as hard! My advice is to take as much math, physics, and programming as possible in high school, and then take a SAT/ACT preparation course. The top engineering schools require relatively high SATs (but not perfect), but there are many other really good engineering schools that are not as competitive. My best students are not necessarily the ones with the highest test scores, my best students are the ones that work the hardest.

Prof. Cummings  

Every school has different entry requirements for its graduate programs so it is important that you check with your specific program. You will need at least a minimum of three semesters of calculus and likely a course in linear algebra. You can never take too much math but your school may have refresher courses that would also be valuable. And the GRE will likely be a requirement for entry so it is important to prepare for this as well.

Professor Cummings 

A great introductory text to aerospace systems and engineering is “Introduction to Flight” by John Anderson. And I recommend exploring the Smithsonian Air and Space website for lots of great visuals.

Professor Cummings

There are many excellent engineering programs in California as well as across the country. If you are interested in a scholarship from the Navy, look for schools with a Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). However, you can still join the Navy even if you do not go to college on a ROTC scholarship. The Naval Academy is an option as well, but is extremely competitive. A good place to start is your high school counselor who will be able to help you match your interests to schools either nearby or in another state.

The Navy's officer program will accept you if you already have a biomedical engineering degree into one of their direct entry programs (like Officer Candidate School), but if you want to go to college on a Navy scholarship, then they only provide scholarships for those areas they have the most need. I would recommend getting a mechanical engineering degree, which is one of these areas. Many people minor in biomedical fields while getting a BS in Mechanical Engineering,and there is a lot of overlap in topics. Good Luck!

Mary (Missy) Cummings
Director, MIT Humans and Automation Laboratory

I think your daughters plan is an excellent one. Mechanical Engineering is a more general degree than Aerospace Engineering, with significant overlap in many of the courses. In fact, in the US, many departments are combined Mechanical and Aerospace. As far as job prospects, both degrees open many doors and one degree will not likely be better than the other. In the US, companies like the fact that engineers know how to work hard, focus, and develop evidenced-based solutions for problems. At MIT, many Aerospace Engineers actually get hired by financial companies because of their mathematical abilities! So you should not worry too much about her desire to choose Mechanical Aerospace, both will provide her an excellent foundation. Mary (Missy) Cummings