At a Glance
Year: ‘13, ‘14
Takeaway from UML: “Throughout my entire time at UMass Lowell, I had become so conditioned to exist among those who believed in me.”
Evana Gizzi ’13, ’14 sees a distinct parallel between UMass Lowell and NASA.
“They’re both supportive environments to thrive in,” says the double River Hawk, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in applied and computational mathematics before getting a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence at Tufts University.
Gizzi credits UMass Lowell with providing her with opportunities that led her to a career at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where she serves as principal investigator of Research in Artificial Intelligence for Spacecraft Resilience (RAISR).
RAISR, a project that Gizzi created in 2020 while a NASA Pathways intern, focuses on using artificial intelligence to speed up the detection and repair of problems in spacecraft.
She also contributes to other NASA projects, including an ongoing constellation mission that aims to capture scientific events in space from several angles using multiple satellites.
“Not only am I extremely proud of where I am today, but I can also honestly say that I love my job,” Gizzi says. “I have a deep sense of purpose in what I do.”
Less than 36% of the NASA workforce is female, according to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but Gizzi says her co-workers have made her feel welcome.
“I have been inspired by seeing my colleagues rally to give me that extra support and go above and beyond to make me feel included and at home,” she says.
As for the future of women in STEM, she hopes to see the gender gap narrow.
“I have high hopes that more women get involved,” she says. “I have observed that women have an especially unique leadership capability. I have had some of the greatest successes on projects that were led by women.”
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is based in Greenbelt, Maryland, but Gizzi received approval to work remotely from Lowell so she can build partnerships between NASA, UMass Lowell and other Boston-area universities and companies.
“I’m trying to push for an established NASA presence in Boston and grow collaborations in this area,” she says.
Last fall, Gizzi was invited to address incoming students at the university’s 2022 Convocation ceremony to talk about her path from student to NASA researcher. Two months later, she staffed a NASA booth at the university’s Fall Career Fair. Having interned at NASA while a doctoral student at Tufts, she knows the importance of getting students involved in research.
“Students can bring this cutting-edge perspective to help solve problems, especially in artificial intelligence,” she says.
Gizzi did not always aspire to work in the field of artificial intelligence, but a required computing course she took during her junior year at UMass Lowell changed her trajectory. Her professor, triple River Hawk Mark Sherman, who at the time was pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science, told Gizzi that she had a “knack for coding.”
“That really empowered me,” she says.
Sherman helped get Gizzi into the lab of computer science Prof. Fred Martin, where she worked on web development.
“Fred was the one who took the initial leap of faith in me by letting me work in his lab,” she says. “He was very patient with me while I was learning to code.”
Gizzi landed an internship in web application development with MITRE in Bedford, Massachusetts, the summer after graduating with her bachelor’s degree. She received her master’s degree a year later and returned to MITRE as a full-time web application developer.
“If there was an opportunity, I didn’t hold back,” says Gizzi, who worked at MITRE for about two years. “I was enthusiastic about it and didn’t question my abilities.”
Gizzi still keeps in touch with people at UML who impacted her life. She got married in 2021 to Navy veteran Mitchell Conway ’21, who also earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at UML. Martin attended their wedding, and Gizzi’s bridal party consisted of mostly UMass Lowell alumni.
Being surrounded by people who wanted her to succeed is what made UMass Lowell so special, says Gizzi.
“Throughout my entire time at UMass Lowell, I had become so conditioned to exist among those who believed in me that I would go on in my career to exclusively seek out people where there was mutual encouragement of one another,” she says.