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UCLA Aerospace Engineering Senior Builds, Launches Rockets and More

Anjali Koganti

Courtesy of Anjali Koganti

Jul 17, 2023

UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Anjali Koganti knew she wanted to be an engineer ever since she built her first computer from scratch at age 8 alongside her father. Now the rising fourth-year student at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering reached yet another milestone on her journey to become an aerospace engineer as a 2023 Brooke Owens Fellow and a summer intern at The Aerospace Corporation.

Growing up in San Diego, Koganti said as a child, her dream job was to be an artist, but she also enjoyed building things — circuits, potato batteries, or elaborate Lego sets. 

“I remember being enthralled with the way all the pieces fit together and how putting my hands on each piece helped teach me what each component did,” Koganti said.

Drawn to creative projects that allow her to work with her hands to make something, Koganti attended engineering camps for young girls at nearby UC San Diego where she started to develop confidence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Engineering is a multifaceted subject — it’s a practical, distinctly creative and flexible discipline that aims to answer the question, ‘how can a problem be solved in the best way possible?’” Koganti said. 

Anjali Koganti pictured with Team Prometheus’s hybrid rocket Persephone right before its October 2022 launch in the Mojave Desert. Photo courtesy of Anjali Koganti

When it came time to apply for college, Koganti knew that staying in Southern California would allow her to not only avoid cold weather but also take advantage of career opportunities at numerous aerospace companies in the area. She was impressed by the resources, faculty and reputation of UCLA Samueli where she visited as a junior in high school. But more importantly, she remembered touring the lab of Rocket Project at UCLA. The student-led club left an indelible impression on the teenager.

Soon after she was admitted to UCLA, Koganti joined the organization and has since learned to design, build and troubleshot a hybrid rocket, which is powered by a combination of solid fuel and a liquid oxidizer.  She has also stepped up and taken on leadership roles, including serving as the club’s project lead and outreach director. 

Last October, she and her Prometheus team successfully launched its hybrid rocket Persephone, reaching 3,000 feet in the Mojave Desert before it had an engine burn through — no small feat considering the team was completely made up of new members except for her and a co-lead.

“It was one of the best moments of my life seeing that rocket go up after a grueling year of long nights in the lab,” Koganti said. “It was very stressful, but watching the rocket blast off definitely made it all worthwhile.”

Having honed her skills building rockets from concept to launch as a seasoned Rocket Project member, Koganti took on another role last year as an instructor for the undergraduate Engineering 96 course: Rocketry Introduction for Student Education. She took the course in 2020 as a freshman herself, and despite it being taught online due to the COVID pandemic, she said she learned many of the fundamental principles that continue to guide her work today.

“My favorite moment was watching my students launch their rockets knowing that they were able to do so using the skills and knowledge that I taught them,” Koganti said.

Outside of the classroom and the rocket lab, Koganti also serves as an Engineering Ambassador, giving tours of the school to prospective students and their parents. “Being an Engineering Ambassador has enabled me to inspire the next class of UCLA Samueli engineers, paying forward the kindness of my own engineering mentors,” Koganti said. 

Koganti’s time at UCLA Samueli has solidified her love for engineering and allowed her to foster new passions, such as coding. During the summer before her junior year, Koganti put that newfound knowledge to use in her first industry internship working with simulations and control at Relativity Space — an aerospace manufacturing company based in Long Beach, California. 

“Engineering is a multifaceted subject — it’s a practical, distinctly creative and flexible discipline that aims to answer the question, ‘how can a problem be solved in the best way possible?’” Anjali Koganti said.

The positive experience deepened Koganti’s resolve to pursue a career in the aerospace industry. She applied last October for the Brooke Owens Fellowship and was selected as one of 47 fellows for 2023. The program was established in memory of Brooke Owens — a pilot and space policy expert who worked with NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the White House. The fellowship is designed to provide internship opportunities for undergraduate women and other gender minorities interested in the aerospace industry.

Each awardee is paired with a company for a summer internship and offered opportunities to learn from multiple industry mentors. The fellows are also invited to the Brooke Owens Fellowship Future Space Leaders Conference in Washington D.C., where they get to meet other mentors and fellows.

As an intern at The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, Koganti is developing a modeling and simulation software and hardware system for satellites. She said she is most excited to gain new experiences and skills through the internship, especially since this will be her first time developing hardware in industry.

“One of the most positive things that I can take away from the fellowship is the community of exceptional women,” Koganti said. “All of the fellows, both past and present, serve as inspiration and support in such a male-dominated field, and I look forward to leaning on them during my future career.”

In addition to receiving the Brooke Owens Fellowship, Koganti was recently awarded a William S. Klug Memorial Scholarship from UCLA Samueli in recognition of her many contributions to the school. 

Riley de Jong contributed to this story.

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