On Monday, March 20, 2017, Colorado’s Capitol building was filled with aerospace industry representatives, community members, and college students. Representatives from Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance, Ball Aerospace, Sierra Nevada Corporation, CU Boulder, and Metro State – to name a few – set up booths, giving attendees a chance to see how vital aerospace is to the Colorado economy.
One SEAKR employee – Zyola Mix – has been attending Aerospace Day since its inception in 2013.
“I started out as a student representative of the future of aerospace. I was there for the very first aerospace day when the resolution was signed that actually made it Aerospace Day. Since then, I have gone back as an alumna of the Metropolitan State University of Denver, showcasing what the alumni of Metro State are capable of doing, what we have done, and how successful we are. I used and still use Aerospace Day to inspire young boys and girls to pursue aerospace as a career field, showing them the different aspects of aerospace as a whole industry versus the narrow view of just the engineering side. I go as more of a representative of what aerospace is, what the women are capable of, and now as a working member of the industry.”
With a warm smile, Zyola fondly recounts the first time she realized she wanted to “work in the stars.”
“When I was really young – about five or six years old – my uncle took me and my cousins to Diamond Head – I am originally from Hawai`i – and my cousins were all playing and acting crazy. But I was entranced by the ocean that night. It was just glassy. The sky was clear, the stars were sparkling and the ocean was reflecting the stars. I felt like I was in this bubble of stars. I was so excited and kept asking all these questions: where are these stars coming from? Are they really in the ocean? My uncle mentioned that there are people who work in the stars. That stuck with me. I wanted to figure out who these people were. How did they get there? What does that mean, ‘they work in the stars’? All through school, one thing everyone could say about me was that space was my passion, the sky was my passion. Anything about space or planets or galaxies, I would know it. I decided when I was very young, that I wanted to be an astronaut. I didn’t want to be anything else.”
Even with her mind made up, Zyola’s path to a career in aerospace was a winding one.
“My career path to SEAKR was somewhat round about. I applied to CU Boulder, got in, but left after one year to join the Army. I was medically discharged after two and a half years. I then went to the University of Hawai`i in Manoa and earned a degree in Electrical Engineering Technology.
“After graduating, I got my first aerospace position in Hawai`i, working for a mechanical engineering firm. We were building the mechanisms for the lenses for the Keck I and II telescopes up on Mauna Kea. Contracts happen the way they do and eventually I found myself having to find another position.
“I ended up completely out of aerospace, working for Screen Actors Guild/AFTRA. Sometimes I even called actors first thing in the morning to wake them up, saying ‘you’re supposed to be somewhere.’
“I was finally able to get back into aerospace, working for another company in Hawai`i. We were doing hyperspectral imaging. Eventually that company was purchased by BAE Systems, N.A. so I was working for them.
“While working at BAE Systems, I earned my pilot’s license in Hawai`i, which was actually an incredible feat. I have the ability to fly over Open Ocean and in adverse conditions that would not exist in Colorado or anywhere else in the United States. In order for me to earn my license I had to do much more than a pilot learning on the mainland.
“I still love to fly. There’s a definite freedom when you get in a plane. Any troubles that you may have had that day, they need to stay on the ground in order for you to fly.
“Six years later, I had a stint where I was working in transportation for a while. I think more so because it was available than anything else. I realized I was not happy. I wanted to be back in aerospace. I was the only one on the road looking up, while everyone else on the road was looking down. So I went back to school. I used my veterans’ benefits and earned a new degree at Metropolitan State University in Aerospace Systems.
“While in school at Metro State, I was doing a lot of outreach. I went to schools to talk to kids about not giving up on dreams, finding their passions, and finding a way back to what they really enjoy. I met a SEAKR employee at one of these events and we ended up talking. She said ‘you know we’re hiring. You should apply!’ I went ahead and applied. About two weeks later, I got an interview. I came in and it went great. They showed me the whole facility – took me on a tour and everything. I was really excited and really hopeful that I would get the position. A couple days later, I got a letter with an offer. I’ve been at SEAKR ever since and currently I am in Mechanical Design.”
Zyola always knew that she was going to go back to school. She is now working towards her Master’s in Aeronautical Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
“I still want to be an astronaut and higher education is a requirement. Embry-Riddle has a Worldwide Campus, so I can complete an engineering degree online and still work full time. One class at a time, eventually I’ll be one step closer to my dream. It was never a question of if, but rather when. I wasn’t even supposed to get my bachelor’s – being a first generation college graduate – but I want to work in the stars so I am going to keep learning.”
Zyola continues to be incredibly active in the community, inspiring students at events like Aerospace Day to follow their dreams and chase the stars.
“People that are just walking by or visiting the capitol today, they’re walking in on Aerospace Day and they see all these different things that are happening in Colorado…there’s this event and suddenly they’re excited that aerospace is so big in Colorado. It’s kind of cool to see that spark.”