Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day
Abigail Sherriff combines a love of space exploration with a passion for engineering.
June 23, 2022 — For the 9th year, International Women in Engineering Day is being celebrated to raise international awareness of the achievements made by women engineers. Figures released by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) in June 2021 revealed that only 16.5% of engineers are women. This is still a profession in which women are hugely under-represented and it is vital that we encourage more young women and girls to take up engineering careers.
As a small woman-owned business in the space industry, Barrios Technology recognizes the amazing women engineers we have in our teams, as they continue to invent and innovate to significantly contribute to the advancement of human spaceflight.
One such woman leader is Abigail Sherriff who plays an integral role in the success of NASA’s Human Space Flight Technical Integration program. Her career began at Mississippi State University, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, before moving on to the International Space University, where she obtained her master’s in Space Studies.
She was recently the recipient of a Rotary National Award for Space Achievement (RNASA) Stellar Award in the Early Career category. The Stellar Awards honor individuals who have advanced US space capabilities and hold the greatest promise of future capabilities.
We sat down with Abigail Sherriff to find out more about her passion for engineering and space, and what advice she would give to young women considering engineering as a career.
How and when did you decide to become an engineer?
From a very young age, I had a keen interest in human space exploration. I always enjoyed and was good at math and science-based endeavors, and I loved to build and create. I was inspired by the strong female engineer on Stargate SG-1, Samantha Carter, which started me down the path of aerospace engineering.
What skills have been of most value to you in your career?
During my studies, I learned a wide array of technical skills, but I was also able to grow my soft skills through extracurricular activities such as participating in activities associated with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the Theta Tau Professional Engineering Fraternity.
In my working career, the technical skills that have been most integral are those linked to systems engineering, computer science, and project management. Aligning them with soft skills, such as teamwork, creativity, and communication, makes all the difference in delivering a successful project and bringing it to fruition.
Why did you choose a career in the space industry?
For many reasons, but the two most important reasons were a love of human space exploration and a sense of accomplishment when performing engineering tasks, such as improving processes, being innovative, and collaborating with others in the field.
You recently received an Early Career Stellar Award. What was it for and what does it mean to you?
The award was for continuous exceptional leadership in developing and implementing systems and data integration solutions for the successful operation and improvement of human spaceflight initiatives.
Being recognized with this award has been rewarding and humbling; and learning about the other amazing nominees and awardees has been inspiring. Beyond my personal feelings, it is an honor to represent a woman-owned and operated small business that has been incredibly supportive. I feel like a member of the work family in all the best ways.
What is your favorite thing about engineering?
My favorite thing about engineering is the opportunity to collaborate with other inspiring engineers to create new tools and improve existing processes.
What advice would you give young women interested in pursuing a career in engineering?
Lean into what inspires you and don’t be intimidated by changing opportunities and interests. I strive to be confident in my skills and what I can bring to the table. We have all overcome obstacles in pursuing engineering as a career, however, I would encourage young women to seek out mentors and colleagues who will support their growth.
What can be done to encourage women to pursue engineering as a career?
We have to start from a young age. We can inspire young women to pursue a career in engineering with diverse representation in media and, in so doing, build up their curiosity in engineering-related topics.