Laura Seidensticker, an alumna of the Department of Aerospace Engineering, says she feels “it’s important to give back to the organizations that have impacted my life.”
She is doing just that, with a generous donation in support of an Iowa State aerospace engineering undergraduate scholarship and funding for updating of the department’s neutral buoyancy tank in the Spaceflight Simulation Laboratory.
Seidensticker’s relationship with the department goes back to the mid-1980s when she first set foot on campus as a freshman from Omaha, Nebraska. In 1989 she left with diploma in hand and into a job with Rockwell Space Operations Company, which was the main contractor to NASA at Johnson Space Center, working for the Mission Operations Directorate for the Space Shuttle program.
This included designing the flight plan and trajectory for each Space Shuttle mission based on the mission requirements. She worked in the orbital trajectory team that designed the shuttle trajectory from the point where it reached Earth’s orbit and also created the launch windows. She also worked in the re-entry team that designed the re-entry trajectory from the deorbit burn to landing.
Though she may not have fancied herself one at the time, Seidensticker was very much a pioneer in aerospace engineering at Iowa State. Being a female student in the 80s automatically placed her in that category. “I believe there were about four women in my graduating class,” she recalls. “There were three women in my freshman chemistry lecture out of hundreds of students.”
But, she says, in the aerospace engineering department, “The professors and staff were so friendly and really cared about the students. Even though there were not many women, I felt that everyone worked hard and knew that we were all working toward the same goals and we all had a good time doing it and felt like we were all part of a team. There was camaraderie between the students and everyone worked well together on projects. There was friendly competition between the students, but everyone wanted each other to succeed.”
Those memories helped create a feeling Seidensticker has never forgotten – and one she wants to see continue for students in the department today. “I wanted to be able to help students so I was glad to have the opportunity to provide a scholarship at Iowa State, and specifically in the aerospace department,” she says. “I had a tour of the new aerospace engineering facilities at Iowa State that were built since I was a student and was very impressed by the work being done with the neutral buoyancy tank in the Spaceflight Simulation Laboratory.
“I worked for four years on the Space Shuttle program at Johnson Space Center. I had friends from the Aerospace Engineering department at Iowa State who worked with the neutral buoyancy lab at Johnson Space Center that is used to train astronauts and test equipment. In addition, getting to meet faulty member Tomas Gonzalez-Torres, who was a flight director at NASA, was exciting and I was impressed by the work being done by his team in the lab. I hope my contribution can allow them to do more and help inspire students to think in innovative ways to solve real-world problems.”
Today, Seidensticker is the chief technology office at Vital Proteins, a health and wellness company she and family members launched. “I feel that my engineering background, and especially what I learned at Iowa State, contributed to my abilities to understand and solve problems, and contributed to the company’s success,” she says. And her advice to students? “Work hard and keep moving forward. You need to believe in yourself because you are your best cheering squad. No one else will ever understand how hard you have worked and what your dreams mean to you.”
And with her support for the Department of Aerospace Engineering, she will be giving those dreams a helping hand.