#PeopleofSTEAM: Meet Priya

#PeopleofSTEAM: Meet Priya

Priya is an aspiring astronaut and student studying mechanical-aerospace engineering at Cornell University. As a FIRST® alum of FIRST® Robotics Competition team 2554 “Warhawks,” she is no stranger to extracurriculars. She is currently filling her time outside of school with being a part of the Cornell Rocketry Team where she is the engineer for the guided parachute system. She also is the integration and testing engineer for a team  at Cornell building a satellite launching to the International Space Station mid-2024. Mentorship has played a critical role in Priya’s life largely due to the guidance she has received from Veronica Vergara, her mentor in the Civil Air Patrol, Auxiliary of the US Air Force. When asked about how she has been impacted by Vergara she says, “Despite her high rank, position, and authority, she always remained grounded to her roots - humble and working to help others succeed. I aspired to be the same and hoped to treat everyone fairly to succeed together.” It is this passion that drives Priya to not only chase her dream of becoming an astronaut but also mentor young women along the way.

Read more about her journey in STEAM below.

How do you use STEAM skills in your everyday work/life?

Beyond the confines of traditional learning spaces, a commitment to lifelong learning shapes my mindset, driving me to explore new realms within and beyond the STEAM field. The impact of STEAM goes beyond my classes and engineering projects; it's ingrained in my day-to-day routine and shapes the way I approach challenges. Whether it's identifying challenges at work or evaluating situations in my personal life, critical thinking has become a guiding principle. STEAM skills have improved my ability to remain structured, organized, and helped me break down challenges into manageable chunks. 

What is the hardest part of your job?

I often find myself in male-dominated spaces as an aerospace engineer. Underrepresentation sometimes requires women and other underrepresented/underserved populations to work extra hard to prove themselves while facing biases. Remaining confident in myself during such instances is harder on some days than others. It helps that I have a support system of women and trusted mentors.

Do you have a message you want to share for students who are participating in FIRST today?

My FIRST Robotics Competition team was my first experience that pushed me from being a shy, quiet girl in the corner to finding confidence in my voice and earning respect in male-dominated spaces. I enjoyed learning more about myself, working in an engineering environment, and leadership styles on our team. I encourage all FIRST students to take full advantage of the opportunities to not only expand their technical base but also explore ways to grow as a person while collaborating with peers.


Who is a “Person of STEAM” who inspires you?

My mentor Veronica Vergara, currently pursuing engineering and commissioning as a military officer said, “when passion becomes so deeply rooted, it becomes persistence.” That has been the essence of my experience in every adventure I embark on. Because of her mentorship, I learned to operate with a high degree of humility and that allowed me to nurture a successful team.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Don’t let a single obstacle or resistance from people around you affect your spark. I struggled with imposter syndrome and internalized every failure. I only started moving forward when I learned to be comfortable outside my comfort zone and be willing to fail forward. Every time I was vocal about having big dreams of going to space, I was usually met with “you’re not built for this” or “that’s almost impossible, what is your backup?” Every opportunity I took did not result in a positive result, but they all taught me a lesson.


Are you a person of STEAM? Share your story with #PeopleofSTEAM on social media or send us your story at marketing@firstinspires.org.