AIAA in Hollywood Written 6 March 2014

Mary Kate Smith — AIAA Student Member
Senior in Aerospace Engineering, Mississippi State University
Contestant on TBS’s “King of the Nerds,” Season 2

Interview conducted by AIAA Communications

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AIAA: How did you find yourself applying to be on King of the Nerds (KOTN)?

Mary Kate (MK): It’s a really funny story actually. I was familiar with the show but never thought about applying. KOTN reached out to my advisor and said they were looking for people who had a passion for space. My advisor thought it was something I should do, so I applied. Three days later I got a call from California and it has been a roller coaster from there.

AIAA: What was your favorite moment on the show?
MK: Participating in the science fair challenge and getting to see Bill Nye. He is one of my biggest influences. To see him in person and have him grade my project was a dream.

AIAA: How has being on the show affected your life?
MK: Being able to influence kids. I am involved in STEM and being able to talk to kids on an academic level has been so fulfilling.

AIAA: What inspired you to get into aerospace? Did you have any specific people in your life who inspired you? Favorite childhood memory connected to aerospace?
MK: My grandmother was a science teacher. I would spend summers with her and we would stargaze and I would help her with science projects. She instilled my passion for space exploration.

AIAA: Of all your memories, what has been your most favorite memory about your involvement with aerospace in general?
MK: The first moment I realized I had made the right decision—it was at my first AIAA student conference. I got to see the industry for what it was and had the ability to meet a huge group of people who were trying to do new things. It was really inspiring. It was exactly what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be.

AIAA: What do you want to do after you graduate?
MK: I will either go to grad school or go into the industry. My dream position would be a project manager for a space company, working in space exploration or robotics.

AIAA: What advice do you have for your peers about succeeding in the industry? Also, what would you have older members do to help young professionals?
MK: My biggest advice to my peers would be to talk to fellow AIAA members. Networking is so important and you never know how those people will influence you. I’ve been able to network at AIAA conferences and utilize those contacts in my undergrad research. It’s all about sharing ideas and helping each other.

Older AIAA members should reach out to young professionals and students. It’s important to show that people in the industry care about what young professionals are doing and where they are going.

AIAA: In your opinion, why is AIAA membership valuable?
MK: AIAA provide such a unique opportunity. It is a huge network of people who share a common ground. There are multiple resources for research. I feel more confident going into the industry with the experience I gained from giving presentations at AIAA conferences.

AIAA: Do you keep in contact with any of your KOTN castmates?
MK: I talk to almost every person from the show almost every day. I talk to Jack all the time. Because he is a Bioengineering major, we talk about the industry and the show.

AIAA: How did it feel to have the cameras around all the time?
MK: Surprisingly enough, the cameras became background pretty quickly. We all became comfortable with the cameras almost immediately.

AIAA: Now that you’ve left the show, who are you rooting for?
MK: I am Team Xander; I had an alliance with him on the show. But I would love to see someone who has a science background, like an engineer or a scientist, take the throne. I think they would be really inspirational and help with STEM outreach.

AIAA: Would you ever do reality TV again?
MK: It depends. If it promotes the celebration of intelligence and has a science background, then possibly.

To learn more about King of the Nerds, please visit