Leading the Dream Machine

Emily McBryan is friendly, about five feet tall, with purple hair. Those three features (the hair, especially) are noticeable, but her intelligence is something key to her personality as well: the senior is a ASU/NASA Space Grant intern who is double-majoring in aerospace engineering and systems engineering.

Those other characteristics also can't subdue another important role McBryan plays: a leader.

Through the robotics team under the ASU/NASA Space Grant program, a program at Arizona State University that links NASA with ASU students, McBryan transformed her role as a member into an intern position, then up to being the leader of the robotics team.

“I like to think I inspire people with whatever they want to do, whether it’s crazy or impactful,” McBryan says. “I like to lead by example and kind of show a lot of enthusiasm.”

During the Arizona’s Centennial Celebration, McBryan, along with four other students, presented the Robotics team’s projects to elected officials, ASU alumni and elementary school children at the state capitol on Feb. 9.

Wearing a black-fitted skirt paired with a vest and sporting the ASU/NASA Space Grant T-shirt underneath, her blonde and purple hair pulled back, McBryan set aside the scorching heat of that day at the capitol and drew people in with her bright smile and outgoing personality.

When children passed the ASU/Space Grant tables, McBryan held out bookmarks and, in a nurturing tone of voice, asked the kids to have a bookmark. When an older man approached McBryan after she mentioned NASA, McBryan explained what the program was about. Right away she realized the man was having trouble hearing her, so she took up the label that  had the name of the program and the name of the team, and she held it up for him to read.

“[She’s] not too much of a militaristic leader, not telling everyone what to do,” Erick Yanez, mechanical engineering sophomore and ASU/NASA Space Grant intern, says about McBryan’s manner of speaking. “She’s focused when things need to get done. [She has a] study voice when things need to get done. She’s concentrated but light-hearted. She’s direct but calm.”

The president of ASU/NASA Space Grant’s Robotics team, McBryan believes she was chosen in 2010 for her approachability and ability to break the science jargon down and to represent the team to those outside the science community.

“I think I was chosen because the other two people were very experienced in very specific fields,” McBryan says. “Whereas I was kind of surprised to be considered because I was really all over the place, but that was the aspect that helped me the most because I wasn’t focused in one component. I knew a little bit about everything.”

Before getting involved with the ASU/NASA Space Grant program, McBryan got involved at her high school’s robotics team, which was a part of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science Technology (FIRST) team that her sister initiated. Her dad encouraged her and worked with her during high school.

McBryan participated in the robotics team for the whole four years, became president of the team and then graduated and came to ASU looking for something similar.

“I walked in one day and said, ‘Hi, guys,’” McBryan says about the beginning of her participation with the robotics team, which was founded her first year at ASU in 2009.

The ASU/NASA Space Grant Robotics team was, as McBryan says, kind of formed by high school robotics team members from all over, who didn’t want their interest to stop or fade.

As she volunteered with the robotics team, the proceeding year she was asked to apply for the ASU/NASA Space Grant program. This upcoming summer, McBryan will be leading the Robotics team in three competitions: National Underwater Robot Challenge (NURC) at Chandler High School, the International Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) competition in Orlando and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) competition in San Diego.

Through a Facebook interview, aerospace engineering senior, adviser of the Sun Devil Satellite Lab and McBryan's co-worker, Aaron Goldstein says, "Emily is a very inspirational member of space grant.

“Although it is not extremely common to see a female in an engineering course, and it may be prudent to commend her as a woman engineer, noting Emily’s contributions to the robotics group while also pursuing a degree in engineering sends a very motivational message for both women and men alike."

With her second year leading the robotics team, McBryan says, “My definition of a president and a leader may be a little different than others. How I define it is if I’m doing nothing then I’m doing my job because then everyone is doing their part. My whole job is making sure that others can do what they want.”

Although she admits that she struggles with time management and organizing, McBryan says that being able to communicate is important and advises other students pursuing her position to be communicative and to focus on the people who make up the teams.

“Emily is great,” Associate Director of ASU/NASA Space Grant program Thomas Sharp says. “She is a leader. She’s double [majoring]. She’s just a dynamo.”

 

Contact the reporter at noemi.a.gonzalez@asu.edu


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