On May 27th, Avery Lopez and her “Lobo Launch” team are going to watch the efforts of a year’s hard work go up in smoke. Jet fuel smoke, hopefully, since the team will be launching the world’s largest amateur rocket as part of their senior design project in rocket engineering.

Lobo Launch was made up of four separate engineering teams dedicated to a specific portion of rocket design: propulsion, rocket structure, electronics, and launch pad design. As Lobo Launch’s project manager, Lopez was responsible for each of these teams and their ongoing success, as well as developing a program that will benefit students in the years to come.

“This is a lot more than just a ‘model rocket,’ this is the real thing. It’s very intimidating. But our professors at UNM have been encouraging. For example, our professor and faculty advisor previously worked on rockets for the military, as well as NASA. He’s instilled this confidence in us that said ‘we can do it. Literally, the stars are the limit’.”

Working on the world’s largest amateur rocket might not be where Lopez envisioned herself when she first arrived at UNM a few years ago as an art student.

“I was originally going to go to art school, and my parents told me that I should try to apply my design and creative thinking skills to engineering. To be frank, my parents were big Trekkies and Star Wars fans, and that’s where in interest in space comes from.

“So, I took one engineering class and I fell in love with it. My parents always believed in me, but they always thought I was going to go back to art.”

Lopez has found a way to balance the structure and ingenuity required of successful engineers with an artist’s creative thinking to approach projects with an open mind and a desire to create new experiences for people. She believes this approach will help her even more in her aerospace engineering future.

“Lots of times the professors will remind you that ‘you’re creating something, but you’re creating something for a person.’ Just like with art, you’re creating art to make people experience something. And when you’re in engineering, you’re also creating something that people will experience.”

Lopez is able to run her ideas by her professors and get quick feedback from them because of the class sizes in UNM’s Mechanical Engineering department. She’s able to get much more face-to-face time with them than she believes she would at other universities. This, along with the support she’s received from the department, has prepared her for success after she leaves the University.

“The Department of Mechanical Engineering provides a lot of support for women in engineering. To the point that it doesn’t feel like we’re special at all, as a woman in engineering. We’re there because we made the grade. We have a support system that makes us feel like we’re supposed to be there, no imposter syndrome for us. Our faculty are constantly encouraging us to become successful engineers.”

“I was accepted to Virginia Tech and I was thinking about it. But because it was a school focused in engineering I don’t think I would have had as much time with the professors to really hone my engineering skills. I love it here. I get to talk to the professors anytime I want and they give me great advice, which has helped me to become an aerospace engineer.