Julie Duetsch’s intended career path did not initially include aerodynamics, compressibility, or computational modeling of turbulent flows. In fact, it did not include engineering at all.

But now, Duetsch is graduating this spring with a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering and has been named this year’s Outstanding Senior in the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering.

A native of Blacksburg, Virginia, Duetsch envisioned she would major in English once she came to college. At age 16, she took a flight alone from Los Angeles to Sydney on a Boeing 747. Having only flown on smaller domestic planes in the past, she was astounded by the sheer size of the 747. Her mind wandered, full of questions during the 16-hour flight. “How is this plane going to get off the ground? How could such a huge plane fly across the Pacific? I need to know how all of this works.”

Her trajectory shifted significantly during that trip, giving her new focus and a newfound clarity about her future: she wanted to become an aerospace engineer.

With a determination to catch up to her fellow engineering students who had heavily studied math and science in high school, Duetsch immersed herself in her chosen field and within Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. She chose to live in the Hypatia Living-Learning Community for female engineers, knowing that her classes were going to be heavily male dominated. She was drawn to the built-in community and their impressive studio space.

She also joined the Society of Women Engineers and was elected vice-president her freshman year, chaired the Evening with Industry event for two years, and currently serves as treasurer. Eager to network with her fellow aerospace engineering students, she also joined Virginia Tech’s student chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. A natural leader, Duetsch has now served as the organization’s president for the past two years.

Pat Artis, professor of practice in the aerospace and ocean engineering department, recalls arriving on the first day of his Introduction to Aerospace Engineering class in 2016. Duetsch had arrived early and was ready and eager to learn.

“While many students do not have the intellectual capabilities or dedication to realize their dreams, it soon became clear that Julie was an outstanding student capable of focusing on and mastering aerospace engineering,” Artis noted. “Moreover, she was clearly the most organized and disciplined student I have ever encountered.”

By her sophomore year, Duetsch felt more confident in her place within the college had experienced successes in her coursework and established a supportive network of peers through her involvement with various extracurricular activities.

In the spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), she felt called to serve and assist incoming students, who like her felt uncertain of their role and their place in engineering. She joined the aerospace and ocean engineering student ambassador program, representing the department to both prospective high school students and freshmen who were interested in the curriculum.

Today, Duetsch is still relentlessly motivated and filled with an unstoppable energy, pushing herself to take advantage of more opportunities for growth. She applied to and was selected to join the College of Engineering Dean’s Team, where she felt she could make a broader impact on engineering students and the college as a whole. She enthusiastically jumped into this new role, hosting information sessions and helping to organize the college’s open house event. She had found her home, and wanted to help others envision how they could also succeed in engineering.

In terms of academic research, Duetsch deliberately sought out technically diverse professional and research experiences. Throughout her time at Virginia Tech, she completed internships for the National Science Foundation, Pratt & Whitney, and Boeing that focused on design and operations. She also participated in research, using computational methods for aerodynamics and chemical modeling of polymers for unmanned aerial vehicle materials.

During her senior year, she joined a research team under William Devenport, professor of aerospace and ocean engineering and director of the Stability Wind Tunnel. Along with several graduate students, she began work on high-profile research projects in the tunnel associated with the NASA Transformational Tools and Technologies Program and the Office of Naval Research’s Basic Research Challenge in turbulent shear flows.

“Despite being the junior member of the group, Julie immediately demonstrated a grasp of the bigger picture and a natural aptitude for leadership,” said Devenport, who was impressed with her extraordinary leadership ability and potential. “As such she has been a critical contributor to the strategic planning phases of both efforts. I would rate her as one of the most promising candidates for graduate work and research I have seen in the last 10 years.”

Duetsch’s hard work and breadth of experience has earned her well-deserved accolades on a national level. As a member of the national aerospace engineering honor society, Sigma Gamma Tau, Duetsch represented Virginia Tech as the Mid-Atlantic regional winner in the society’s Annual Undergraduate Award competition. More recently, she was named the national winner amongst the nine regional winners and was awarded Sigma Gamma Tau's top honor, the Ammon S. Andes National Award.

Duetsch’s impressive record of research and dedicated service as a Hokie is not yet complete. As a participant in the accelerated undergraduate/graduate degree program, she has already begun to earn credits toward her graduate degree and plans to stay at Virginia Tech to earn her doctoral degree in aerospace engineering, specializing in aero-hydrodynamics.

Duetsch plans to return to Boeing for another internship this summer and dreams of working there as an aerodynamics engineer in the future. She is excited by the prospect of working in research and development, brainstorming new aircraft configurations that could revolutionize aviation.

Written By Jama Green