Aeronautical engineering?

My d23 is extremely interested in both astronomy and robotics and anything space and space flight related. I and others have been urging her to consider aeronautical engineering, but she is reluctant thinking they won’t be her people - that students will be mostly male and right wing (she is queer and very progressive in her politics) and that most careers run (or at least start) through the military or related contractors which isn’t somewhere she would want to work. Do you think she is right? (She otherwise will go to major in astronomy/astrophysics/planetary sciences)? If not, what school may be best fit for her to visit to get the real picture? Thanks!

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It depends on the school, but more so the job.

I would be inclined not to choose AE, but rather ME, Mechatronics specifically. NASA employs 20 flavors of engineers. Why not pick the one most aligned with her interest.

Engineering in general is male dominated and a lot of the space related jobs are with military contractors. Some are the hoorah, ‘Murica types, but many aren’t.

She will change over time. My son did. He once had his eyes set squarely on NASA and SpaceX. Once his friends started working there and he spent some time at Edwards AFB, he knew he had no interest. He could work his way back in, but through a very specialized route of aerodynamics.

So, have her think broader. Choose Mechatronics and emphasize either more robotics, more fluids, or both as her tech electives.

Good luck!

That depends on where you live and what other intangibles she wants in a college experience.


I was one of three young women out of seventy undergrads in my engineering major. Made some great friends and loved my studies. Were they my people? Not really. My people came from all over campus. I think your daughter should study what interests her. And if she’s worried about the social aspect of engineering she maybe should not go to a tech-only school. My daughter is about to embark in her freshman year in a male dominated major. I’m hoping all goes well🤓

Edited to add: Not sure where you’re from but I would start looking at your state flagship for engineering. Good luck!


Thanks both. I guess I was thinking perhaps a particular school would be more likely to have a liberal setting and lgbtq friendly atmosphere than others. UMich is an idea but she is put off by the size. Princeton and Stanford presumably, but obviously true lottery schools.

What is your home state and what are her stats? We can’t really recommend anything without that.

She has one litmus test…doesn’t like giant schools. That’s helpful. What others are there? Will she go to school in the Deep South? Does she hate hot and humid, or freezing cold weather? What hobbies does she want support for? Hiking? Surfing? Skiing? Other?


Lol fair. We are in New England. No budget constraints. Older sibs went Ivy/similar full pay and we won’t treat her differently. Intellectual but not insanely driven/work all the time atmosphere. No red states and no conservative or frat/sorority dominated student culture. Otherwise hard to say as we haven’t visited much. She should be competitive with her stats but is at very competitive private school. No amazing ECs (lives and breathes the robotics team where she is captain and is on jv squash team), huge reader, volunteers at local observatory (they made exception from age requirements for her and she has her own key ha), summer program UChicago astrophysics, also d and d, comic books, normal super nerdy stuff lol. Lots of APs with mix of 4/5s.

Edited to add - we have a good handle on where to visit for Arts and Sciences schools - it is just I want her to at least give engineering a visiting chance in case she decides it is right for her rather than ruling it out based on prejudice

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I think there’s a no brainer school…WPI. They are VERY unique in how they educate students. It is heavily project based. Terms are short at 7 weeks and always include 2 tech courses and one non-tech, LA course. The student body is gender balanced, pretty diverse, close to, but not in Boston, and small, but doesn’t feel that way. She could certainly do ME or AE, but they have Physics with a minor in Astrophysics and also offer one of the very few ABET accredited Robotics Engineering degrees in the nation. All kinds of Robotics in space and that’s her thing.

My son had high enough stats to be competitive anywhere and ended up at a much more competitive admit (not because that, but because it was sunny and on the West Coast). He waited until 2 days before the deadline to finally reject WPI. We all liked it quite a bit.


Rice sounds like a good fit, even though it is in Texas. Very progressive, LGBTQ+ friendly, happy students, STEM-focused but great humanities, architecture, music, etc. as well. No Greek system - all students belong to a randomly-assigned residential college that they are part of for all four years. Good mix of students for a school that size - truly think every type of kid/student will find their people, but also small enough that they will be around and get to know people who aren’t just like them.


I would agree wholeheartedly with this with a BIG caveat…the humidity is BRUTAL. I went to school there. Beyond that, Rice is awesome and the food scene is improving dramatically in Houston. Houston isn’t like Odessa. It’s got a good balance culturally and politically and Rice tilts ever further to the left.

I’d add Wash U too. Yes, MO is red, but it has three bright blue dots, St. Louis, Columbia and KC. They have AE, ME, Mechatronics, Astrophysics and Astroparticle Physics. It’s a pretty campus in a good part of town, close to one of the best urban parks in the nation.


Well… My son just graduated from Michigan. It’s not as large as people think. Central campus is pretty small and North is also. My son was always 10 minute walk to his classes.

I met a team that worked on a prototype for NASA. They gave Michigan a large grant to accomplish an augmented reality helmet. I got to play with it a week before it was being sent off. Very cool stuff. The team of 5 and three were women. But they were from CS, Mechanical and Areo working together…

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As much as I like Michigan, it’s hard to convince anyone that a school with almost 46,000 total students “It’s not as large as people think.” It’s in the top 20 by enrollment. :wink:

I have had many families go there and agree with me after touring the campus. The student is just not all over campus everyday. You are usually at one section most of the day which makes it smaller. I know what your saying. But it’s not like you bump into 45,000 people on your way to class. I have been there too many times and many times it’s like empty just walking around. Now… Going to a game on game day… Well… That’s a different story… Even my daughter that went to 2 lacs under 2,000 students agrees with me. Also the city is part of campus so it’s not a typical college campus per se. Not trying to convince anyone but if interested it’s worth a look.

My kid has narrowed their school list to the following, with LBGTQ friendliness and liberal surroundings being very important, and with mechanical engineering as the main focus:

  • Stanford
  • Brown
  • Carnegie Mellon
  • Harvey Mudd
  • Johns Hopkins
  • UCLA
  • UCSD
  • Cal Poly SLO
  • UWashington
  • CU Boulder

Some of those schools are in areas that may not be as progressive as others. Boulder is our safety school, and quite frankly it is looking better and better as time goes on and uncertainty about how things will play out with the pandemic and other rights (voting, female reproductive health) seemingly under attack.


I keep thinking “Hmmm…”

Your daughter, once she gets out of college, will be asked to work with people who are, in some cases male, in some cases right-wing (more on that later) and in some cases both. Will this be a problem then? And if not, why is it a problem now?

And is it really fair - or even accurate - to take a diverse set of views and collapse them to just “right wing”? Is Major General Tammy Smith left wing or right wing?

To be successful, she will have to learn to work with people she may not always agree with. College is the time to learn how to do that.

Next, yes, if she has an absolute prohibition on working on military technology, aerospace is not for her. The P-8 Poseidon and the 737-800 are the same plane. One is a subhunter and the other has uncomfortable passenger seats. The KC-46 and the 767 have a similar story.

More to the point, most mechanical engineering in aerospace is not designing aircraft. It’s designing machines that make aircraft. A gizmo that lets you make a passenger jet more efficiently might also let you make a fighter jet more efficiently.

On the other hand, the job situation in astronomy is not good. You need a PhD. If a faculty advisor graduates 10 students, and only one is needed to replace her, well…you see the problem.

It will not be an easy choice.


Thanks so much, very helpful list. Why UCLA and not Berkeley? Also I think of John’s Hopkins as super intense and all work no play. Many of the others are on our list as well.

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Thanks, UMichigan is obviously a great school and as a state school she could EA there even if doing SCEA elsewhere…will talk to her more about it.

Unless you’re going together, CU is HER safety. :wink:

I was one of only a few women in engineering school in the early 80s at UT Austin and never had a problem with any of the guys. I found engineering students to be friendly and hard working. The guys didn’t treat me any differently. I had a blast even though I’d been very shy in high school.

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CU Boulder has a planetarium and a pretty good aeronautical engineering program (new building that is pretty cool)


My nephew majored in mechanical and now works for Northrup Grumman on some space type project. He really wasn’t focusing on ‘space’ just worked out that way.

A classmate of mine (40 years ago!) is a chem eng from CU and she worked for NASA for almost 40 years and was pretty high up in the pecking order. She worked on the arm of the space station.

My daughter graduated more recently from a tech school and there were only 30% women at her school, not all in engineering. She did have to assert herself in a few group projects but she did what she needed to do to make her position heard. Some people are jerks, and some of those are men - you have to learn to deal with them. I think she would have liked a more balanced group for projects, but since they were usually 3-4 students, she was often the only women in the group (she was also in civil, and there still aren’t a lot of women in civil). She had a few gay friends and classmates, but I wouldn’t say her school had a big LGBQ presence. To her, they were just another classmate/teammate/friend and not a separate group.

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I think D22 just doesn’t have an interest in UCB, she points to the size of the undergraduate classes, and freshman housing not being guaranteed. We did walk around the campus and drove around the area a little bit to check it out since it was on our itinerary of campuses to see on our drive from the Bay Area to LA metro area. But seeing it in person didn’t move the needle for her.

I’ve also heard JHU is intense, I won’t disagree with you there.

I meant to mention with my previous post that CU Boulder has a good reputation for aerospace engineering AFAIK.

Rice was attractive to D when she was a sophomore, but with how things have been going recently in Texas, it’s off the list for her. However, there is a program in TX that your D may be interested in looking into for next summer - google NASA SEES. D applied because there was a chance for some in-person activities at UT Austin for two weeks over the summer. She got in, but then they decided to be virtual all summer (in retrospect that was a very good call) and more virtual work over the summer was not appealing to her so she withdrew. Who knows what next summer will be like though…

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