Pilot, engineer, neuroscientist, bridge-builder

At first look, aerospace engineering and mind and cognitive sciences might seem to be an unlikely match for a double-major. However for Elissa Gibson ’22, the frequent thread connecting the 2 inherently totally different disciplines is evident: the human issue, by the use of aviation.

A lifelong love of airplanes helped Gibson uncover the MIT Introduction to Expertise, Engineering, and Science, or MITES (previously generally known as the Workplace of Engineering Outreach Packages), which helped carve a direct pathway to MIT. There, the Institute’s tradition of infinite potentialities made it doable to pursue a singular double-major, acquire her pilot’s license within the span of a single summer time break, uncover her ardour for community-building and mentoring Black college students, and shadow surgeons in a South African hospital as a part of MISTI-Africa post-graduation.

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“I’ve the mindset of an engineer, and thru my expertise as a pilot, I got here to grasp the physique as a system, which is how I grew to become interested by how our our bodies are affected by flight, which led me to declare a double main in Course 16 and Course 9,” says Gibson. “I discovered that I’m keen about determining how I can use all my pursuits for one thing good as a result of it is so attention-grabbing to use our technical abilities in methods that may assist folks. For me, it was extra than simply connecting the dots; it was forming a constellation.”

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Path to MIT

As a younger lady in Fayetteville, Georgia, Gibson used to look at the planes on their technique to and from Atlanta. She grew to become concerned with a summer time program held by the native chapter of the Group of Black Aerospace Professionals, which Gibson credit for exhibiting her what a profession in aerospace might appear to be for her, and she or he delved additional into exploring alternatives for exploring aviation, which is how she discovered the MIT On-line Science, Expertise and Engineering Group, hosted by MITES.

“This program gave me the chance to check astrophysics and science writing, which was how I used to be capable of slender down my curiosity to aviation,” says Gibson. “It was by way of that program that I spotted that MIT would give me room to discover all of these items. I had such an excellent expertise with this program that I used to be impressed to use to MIT.”

When Gibson matriculated to MIT, she knew instantly that she would pursue aerospace engineering, and declared Course 16 (aeronautics and astronautics, or AeroAstro) on the finish of her first yr. Her acceptance to the Tuskegee Subsequent Fellowship, which she accomplished the summer time earlier than her sophomore yr, nevertheless, instilled a brand-new curiosity in Gibson. Whereas coaching for her non-public pilot’s license as a part of the fellowship, Gibson seen that she was extra interested by how her physique reacted to being in flight reasonably than how the airplane itself functioned.

“As a pilot, I got here to grasp first-hand the significance of human-centered design,” says Gibson. “I grew to become extra conscious of how my physique felt as I maneuvered the plane. The airplane turns into an extension of myself as I fly.”

When she returned to MIT, Gibson started taking mind and cognitive sciences with the intention to declare a minor in Course 9 (mind and cognitive sciences). By Gibson’s senior yr, she had written her personal Course 16 focus, human spaceflight, and determined to pursue a second main in Course 9 on the pre-med monitor after researching within the Institute of Medical Engineering and Sciences by way of the MIT Undergraduate Analysis Alternatives Program (UROP). By creating a bio gadget that may stimulate the hydrocephalus, Gibson realized that most of the ideas she realized in AeroAstro’s fluid dynamics class, amongst others, may be utilized to the human physique.

“I feel engineers make nice docs,” Gibson says, “as a result of by way of engineering, we’re taught tips on how to problem-solve, and to method an issue as a system, and the physique is a system as properly.”

Gibson was closely concerned in MIT’s Black pupil teams and served on the chief boards of each the Black Ladies’s Alliance (BWA) and My Sister’s Keeper. “Having a way of group could make an enormous distinction in your expertise right here,” she notes, “and I feel it is extraordinarily essential to make folks — particularly Black girls — really feel comfy in areas like MIT.” 

Simply earlier than Graduation, Gibson acquired the person Bridge Builder Award on the 2022 MIT Awards Convocation. The award acknowledges “a robust dedication to and fervour for variety schooling and cultural celebration … demonstrating noteworthy collaboration and partnership between pupil organizations, residing teams, dorms, groups, particular person college students, nonprofit organizations, and/or governmental teams to lift consciousness, share data, present options, and present dedication to social justice and a extra inclusive MIT.”

Teams just like the BWA and My Sister’s Keeper helped Gibson kind her group at MIT and empowered her to pursue one other ardour — mentoring youthful Black girls. “Individuals who prepared the ground can mild the torch for others,” Gibson states, “and while you mild the torch for another person it would not take away out of your flame. It is okay to convey folks with you as you pull up your seat to the desk. You possibly can develop collectively.”

Gibson’s involvement with these communities aligned together with her pursuits in fairness, social justice, and know-how, which fashioned an essential thread connecting her analysis experiences. Gibson participated in one other UROP the place she was positioned within the Area Enabled Group within the MIT Media Lab, the place she labored on design mission that sought to implement anti-racist beliefs into totally different technological and social programs, comparable to facial and voice recognition software program. Following the completion of the mission, Gibson labored together with her supervisor, Katlyn Turner, on the Invisible Variables mission to judge how Covid-19 and associated insurance policies within the Larger Boston space have affected folks of various race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic standing disproportionately.

Postgraduate adventures and past

After graduating, Gibson participated in MISTI-Africa, working in the International Surgical procedure Division on the Groote Shuur Hospital in Cape City, South Africa. Impressed by her UROP expertise within the MIT Media Lab, she was drawn to South Africa and the hospital particularly not solely due to its multidisciplinary method to medication and but in addition its deal with creating a extra equitable medical area.

Based on Gibson, the Global Surgery Department centered on how we are able to make surgical operations and all the things surrounding surgical procedures extra accessible to folks, and reasonably priced for folks. Day-to-day, she labored to find out the place the gaps in affected person care have been by evaluating if nurses and docs have been correctly accounting for important indicators, and if steps have been taken in the event that they have been irregular. She discovered her programs engineering lessons in aeronautics and astronautics (16.83 and 16.831) ready her properly for this problem.

“We’re designing these missions to go to Mars, however in the end, it is compiled up of a bunch of various programs, and I used to be in a position to make use of comparable pondering and framework in an identical group of study to attempt to decide … the place the gaps are in health-care programs in lower- and middle-income international locations.”

Exterior of the hospital, Gibson loved constructing group together with her co-workers — one in every of her favourite components of her MISTI expertise. “Once you’re residing there for like three to 4 months, you begin to turn out to be just a little bit extra accustomed to the tradition,” Gibson notes, “we developed a rapport with our co-workers, so they’d invite us into their properties for home-cooked meals.”

The size of Gibson’s MISTI program additionally allowed her to journey across the nation and acquire new views. She toured rural hospitals within the Jap Cape for per week, visited prisons the place Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, and hiked all three main peaks of Desk Mountain.

Her love of climbing adopted Gibson on her subsequent journey to Washington, the place she is now working as a system security engineer for Boeing. Constant together with her undergraduate analysis at MIT and through MISTI-Africa, Gibson is targeted on making programs work for folks. “One factor that drew me to the function is that I’ll have the chance to make a direct impression on security for folks throughout their on a regular basis lives.”

“I am excited,” Gibson remarks when requested about her future, “I am about to expertise loads of modifications … I flew into this, and I’ll proceed flying.”


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