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In celebration of Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi American Heritage Month (APIDAHM), the Department of Aerospace Engineering is highlighting some of our talented and diverse faculty and alumni through a series of stories, and Q&As, sharing their journeys and their advice for aspiring aerospace engineers.

Karenna Buco ’18 is a Principal Systems Engineer at Strategic Technology Consulting (STC), An Arcfield Company, with previous work at Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne. She received a M.Eng. in Systems Engineering with Penn State University in 2021 and graduated from the University of Maryland (UMD) with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, focusing on space systems. Additionally, she is an active member of both the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).

Where/How did you get started on your Aerospace Engineering journey?  

In 8th grade, my math teacher challenged the class to write an essay (ironic!) on what future career we would like. It seems silly, but I had imagined myself to be someone who could solve problems really well, help people/society, and have adventures in space like my favorite sci-fi figures at the time. In the real world, the closest career I found to be like them was aerospace engineering, so I responded to the essay wanting to be an aerospace engineer!

Who/What inspires you?    

Generally, I am inspired by my parents and the wonders of space and systems engineering. Now that I am entering my mid-career phase, I would say my mentors and coworkers inspire me on a day-to-day basis. Everyone is achieving their own goals and aspirations, and I find how they think and work as teammates amazing.

What has helped you succeed in your Aerospace Engineering journey?      

Resilience. Challenge is an understatement working in aerospace, but how I've learned to one, face those challenges, and two, problem-solve individually, and with teammates, has allowed me to propel my growth and career.

What advice would you offer current students?              

Generally, even when it seems like what is in front of you is impossible to overcome, know that you're not alone and that there's so much support out there to make it possible. Take advantage of practice problems, study groups, office hours, mentors, and of course, self-care!

UMD is rooting for you to succeed! Practically, pay close attention in your senior-year classes. I encounter problems like that material the most in industry, even today.

What have been some of your greatest personal/professional successes?               

      • I’ve been an AIAA Forum 360 Speaker at the 2020 AIAA SciTech, pitching ideas to address global challenges.
      • Worked as a systems engineer on the development of new space vehicles, with NASA SLS, ULA Vulcan, and Virgin Galactic
      • I’ve been inside the upperstage of several Atlas rockets (and seen them launched firsthand at Cape Canaveral!)
      • Founding WIAA MembersBeing a founding member of UMD's Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics (WIAA)!
        (Pictured at right, Buca with fellow founding members being recognized during the spring Clark School Awards Program.)

Here at the University of Maryland, we hold APIDA Heritage Month (APIDAHM) during April instead of May to ensure that our APIDA community gets a full month to celebrate their culture and heritage before summer break begins.



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"Even when it seems like what is in front of you is impossible to overcome, know that you're not alone and that there's so much support out there to make it possible. Take advantage of practice problems, study groups, office hours, mentors, and of course, self-care!"

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