BY KASEY SPRINGSTEEN
Drake student Katrina Sletten, known as Rena to her friends and colleagues, recently received the honor of being accepted into the Brooke Owens Fellowship Program.
She, along with 35 other female students from across the country, received placement in an internship with a company that works in the STEM field. Some of the companies that provide internships include SpaceX, Amazon, Vulcan and The Museum of Flight.
Sletten is in her final semester at Drake and has triple-majored in physics, astronomy and public relations with a minor in mathematics. She said the faculty at Drake is incredibly helpful and especially inspiring.
Sletten said an incredibly influential person in her career has been Herbert Schwartz, an astronomical observatory lecturer. Sletten worked under him as a student assistant, helping run public nights at the observatory.
“Rena is special because she has an intensity to learn and use that to help the public,” Schwartz said. “She reminds me of a student I used to teach who is now a world-class researcher with a number of discoveries attached to her name that have made headlines. Rena will do great things.”
When asked about especially inspiring professors, she thought of Jennifer Glover-Konfrst, a member of the public relations faculty, Dr. Athanasios Petridis, her advisor in physics, and Dr. Charles Nelsen, her astronomy advisor.
“(Konfrst) really helped me tie all of my programs together,” Sletten said. “She helped me figure out a career path where I can tie my love of astronomy to working with others.”
When she arrived at Drake, Sletten did not have a public relations major, but she realized she wanted to do more than work in a lab her whole career.
Her public relations background may diversify her as a candidate when applying for internships and programs in the STEM fields. Before receiving the Brooke Owens Fellowship, she had an opportunity to do research for Drake Undergraduate Science Collaborative Institute (DUSCI), where she studied in the astronomy department.
She was also given the opportunity this past summer to work at the Science Center of Iowa as a science camp intern.
“That was truly a great experience because I got to make science accessible for kids,” Sletten said.
The Brooke Owens Fellowship Program is only her most recent success.
The program is incredibly competitive, only accepting 36 women from across the country. Brooke Owens, the namesake of the honor, was an accomplished professional in the aerospace field, having worked for branches of NASA and the White House during her career.
Owens also was committed to service, having supported organizations such as AidChild and Mercy’s Village International. The fellowship was founded by three of Owens’ close friends to aid women in the STEM field who represent Owens’ same spirit.
Sletten said the application process was long and complex. There was initially an application combined with an essay and creative portion, then there were a series of phone interviews with opportunities Sletten was interested in, as well as places the foundation thought she would fit.
Sletten interviewed with three different groups, eventually having been chosen to work at the Museum of Flight in Seattle where she will work in the Digital Learning Department.
The program also pairs current fellows with another female who is successful in the STEM field as well as a previous fellow, so Sletten will have lots of mentors and networking opportunities in her field.
Sletten said this is only a step into a future career where she hopes to work in some form of non-profit science.
“I want to inspire my love of science in others. Astronomy has been my passion since kindergarten, and now I get to share that,” Sletten said.