Shanice Kelly is devoted to stellar astrophysics, aerospace engineering and UMass Lowell’s space science program.
She also cares deeply about getting more students of color involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
So she’s a leader in multiple student organizations, including serving as president of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space and as vice president of the UMass Lowell Astronomy Club. She’s also an active member of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Black Student Union.
“I’ve been in leadership roles since high school. If I want to see certain things happen, it doesn’t seem right to leave it to other people to do them,” she says.
Kelly, a first-generation college student who grew up in Jamaica and Eastham, Mass., transferred to UMass Lowell after earning an associate degree in engineering at Cape Cod Community College. When she visited UMass Lowell with a group of students from the community college, she was sold.
“The (Lawrence Lin) MakerSpace won me over, and the engineering department generally. Dandeneau Hall was quite impressive,” she says.
Kelly started as an honors mechanical engineering major, but she’d gotten interested in plasma physics while researching her community college honors thesis on black holes. She wants to do research into whether plasma – a form of matter that results from super-heating certain molecules – can be used to power deep space travel.
So she decided to add a minor in physics. But Prof. Robert Giles, then the department chairman, told her she would need to major in physics to get into a physics Ph.D. program.
Now she’s double-majoring – and she’s added a minor in aerospace studies, too. That means adding an extra semester to her undergraduate career, but it’s worth it. And she can afford it, thanks to an Oprah Winfrey Scholarship that made it possible for her to come here.
“That was amazing, when they told me I got that,” she says. “It’s really helped me.”
Giles also offered her a research job in his lab, where she uses continuous scanning radar to analyze commercial windmill blades for flaws.
From the start, she’s taken advantage of multiple opportunities and campus programs, including the DifferenceMaker innovation and entrepreneurship competition. Her team won an award for their design: the USe Cart, a “smart,” internet-of-things shopping cart that would make self-checkout a breeze.
She also joined the UMass Lowell Honors College. In Space Science Mission Design, an honors seminar taught by Physics Prof. Supriya Chakrabarti, she designed a small satellite to NASA specifications.
“I loved that class,” Kelly says. “I designed a CubeSat with a CR-39 nuclear track detector to detect galactic cosmic rays, to get information to use for future space travel.”
Now she’s involved with the NASA-funded Space HAUC student research program, based in the Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology, as a member of the team that controls which way the satellite faces, or its “attitude.” She also works another university job, operating the telescope in the brand-new Schueller Observatory on South Campus.
“A lot of students don’t realize we have such a big aerospace program at UMass Lowell,” she says. “I think we can get to Mars, and getting as many people as possible involved and knowledgeable about space science is going to help.”