Julia, a self-professed “army brat,” grew up primarily in the Middle East and North Africa. With multiple changes in geography and a healthy dose of multiculturalism, she developed an early interest in international development, specifically how international agencies and local governments work to address critical issues such as poverty and education inequities.
There was another passion brewing inside, however: aerospace engineering. When it came time for college, Julia pursued the aerospace track. She admits: “I’ve been obsessed with outer space for as long as I can remember and I enrolled in Engineering 101 basically because I wanted to learn how rockets work.” She credits her undergraduate professor Dr. Nadine Sarter with helping her combine her interests in space and human development by introducing her to the field of human factors, a discipline concerned with making sure technical systems function well both in the physical world and in social contexts.
After graduating from the University of Michigan with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering, Julia worked as a nuclear power engineer, a strategy consultant, and as the coordinator of the women’s program at Chicago’s largest refugee agency. “I got to a point where I stopped trying to make my career sound like a cohesive narrative,” she jokes. “But to me, these things all fit together well.” She came to see that the common thread in these various settings was trying to make large systems work better for the people who depend on them — which led her to MIT’s Technology and Policy Program.
Julia in front of the Saturn V rocket
Julia is in her second-year at TPP and is pursuing a dual degree with the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department. She is the recipient of the Kesavan Fellowship, an award funded by Sudhakar Kesavan SM ’84, a TPP alum who now leads the consulting firm ICF. She works in the Human Systems Lab (previously known as the Man Vehicle Lab), headed by former TPP Director Dr. Dava Newman. Her research focuses on developing sensors and metrics for remote telehealth systems. She sees this project as very consistent with her two interest areas because while it has applications in space, it can also be very instrumental to development here on Earth. The systems she is working on can be easily adapted to better enable prenatal healthcare in remote regions. This technology is imperative for astronauts, especially as we move into long duration flights. “Humans face unique physical health challenges in space and don’t have access to the full range of medical care that we have here on Earth,” she notes.
When Julia is not in the lab (or the classroom), she satisfies her wanderlust by travelling as much as she can. She also loves writing and recently decided to make a website that combines these two hobbies. Her blog about travel and navigating grad school life can be found at therandomwalk.net, where she is always happy to receive comments and feedback, and to connect with people with similar interests.