Student Spotlight: “Exploration, But to the Extreme” 

For Stephanie Manasterski, Earth is just a starting point. Manasterski, a senior studying mechanical engineering and physics, is aiming for the stars – literally.

As a sophomore, Manasterski already knew that working as an aerospace engineer for SpaceX was her dream job. In her second year at Pitt, she was able to secure an interview for an internship with the spacecraft manufacturer through an interaction on LinkedIn.

“I saw someone post on LinkedIn that there were positions open at SpaceX and so I sent out a Hail Mary message asking if any of the positions were internships, and some of them were,” Manasterski explains.

Feeling unprepared for this daunting interview, Manasterski went to the Career Center to get some support. Manasterski worked closely with internship coordinator Alyson Kavalukas to do some mock interviews and to revamp her resumé and cover letter in case she needed to apply to other internships as well.

“The internship team was so helpful in allowing me to figure out which of my experiences would be most relevant to the type of positions I was applying to and also to be more comfortable answering questions on the fly during an interview,” Manasterski notes.

Although she was unsuccessful in securing the internship during her sophomore year, Manasterski persevered, seeking out aerospace-related activities at Pitt. She joined SOAR, the Society of Astronautics and Rocketry, where she learned about designing and building hardware for spacecrafts, giving her valuable hands-on experience to add to her resumé.

She also co-founded a propulsion laboratory at Pitt, named ProLab. In under a year, Manasterski and her team members completed the entire process of designing and firing a rocket motor. It was the first-ever rocket motor to be created and launched by Pitt students.

With all this experience up her sleeve, internships started flowing in for Manasterski. She is currently interning at Virgin Orbit, a company that launches small satellites from a plane in midair instead of on the ground like most other launch companies. Manasterski is on the propulsion team, helping to redesign part of the engine the company uses.

“It’s so cool to get to look at the hardware, to get to feel the engine,” Manasterski expresses.

Manasterski was paired with Virgin Orbit after she was named a 2022 Matthew Isakowitz Fellow, a fellowship program for students pursuing careers in the commercial spaceflight industry.

Refusing to give up on her dream of working at SpaceX, Manasterski applied once again for their fall 2022 internship program and was successful. Starting this autumn, Manasterski will be on their production team, testing their falcon rocket.

“It was really cool to be able to do these two internships back-to-back because they’re both in Los Angeles, so I get to spend six months in sunny California,” Manasterski says.

While she acknowledges that the aerospace field can often be a “boys’ club,” Manasterski says she has always felt welcomed and valued on her teams and at her internships.

“I’m also a physics major, so I understand what it’s like to be the only woman in the room,” she notes. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with good teams and have become a voice for myself. I haven’t had to deal with situations like that, luckily.”

Manasterski encourages all Pitt students seeking internships to reach out early to the Career Center.

“The Center is helpful whether you’ve already found something and have an interview or if you haven’t found anything yet and are nervous about that,” she says. “No matter what point you’re at in your search, they can help you.”

Having achieved her goal of an internship at SpaceX, Manasterski is aiming for even larger targets in her future.

“I want to help bring humans to other planets,” she explains. “It’s kind of like exploration, but to the extreme. I always want to work in aerospace and make cool stuff, so as long as I’m doing that and challenging myself, I think I’ll be on the path of success.” 

By Dionna Dash
Dionna Dash Nordenberg Scholar