Naia Butler-Craig is passionate about space exploration and creating a space for young women of color in STEM.
Naia is a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Fellow at Georgia Tech. Naia’s goal is to become a mission specialist astronaut and contribute to deep space exploration!
Naia earned her Aerospace Engineering Bachelors of Science with a concentration in astronautics and minor in computational mathematics from Emby-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU). She began working on projects beginning her freshman year, starting with clubs on campus. As an undergraduate, she was a McNair scholar, research assistant, NASA student, and GEM Fellow with Los Alamos National Laboratories! While at ERAU, Naia founded the ERAU chapter of the Society of Women in Space Exploration (SWISE), served on the regional board of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and volunteered in Dreams Soar Inc. as the STEM Programs Lead and community outreach analyst.
Now, Naia is an Aerospace Engineering PhD Student, NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Fellow, and GEM Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology. At Georgia Tech, she is a member of the High-Power Electric Propulsion Lab.
Naia uses her platform of social media (check out her Twitter and TikTok!) and her website to share tips, information, and advice. Naia also founded Black Girls in STEM, a social initiative promoting Black girls and women in STEM fields to serve as role models for younger scientists. Naia’s goal is to highlight Black women in STEM to provide role models for other women interested in the field themselves.
What got you interested in STEM?
I had always shown interest in STEM. From a young age, I did stuff like draw cars I thought could run on oxygen and get excited about things like the water cycle. But it wasn’t until 8th grade when I took a class called Earth Space Science that I was captivated by space itself.
What interests you about space exploration?
My drive to engage in space exploration has never been for the pure satisfaction of calling myself an astronaut someday. It’s to be on the front lines of the evolution of our species. Evolution of humanity will require that the spirit of space exploration be one of unity, and progress. That’s not achievable if we don’t transfer our knowledge and invest in the next generation.
As we continue to push the limits of space travel, it’s imperative that every facet of humanity be represented at the tables where the decisions are being made.
Because space belongs to all of us.
What do you wish more people knew about aerospace engineering?
I wish people knew how versatile the aerospace engineering field is. The knowledge learned can be applied across engineering disciplines. Also, within aerospace engineering there are so many different career tracks.
What advice do you have for young women of color pursuing careers in STEM academia?
One of the important pieces of advice I have received as a WOC in STEM academia is: trust yourself enough to do what you were chosen to do there, and trust yourself enough to ask for what you need and want. It is imperative that you are your own best advocate!
How was your first year as a graduate student?
There’s plenty I learned along the way and though some was learned the hard way, I’m thankful for it. The single most important thing I learned over the last few months, to combat imposters syndrome and just to get through life in general, was to be patient. Patient with myself, patient with my development and patient with my environment.
I learned that perfection isn’t the goal. Progress is.
What’s the most interesting experience you’ve had in STEM?
The most interesting experience I’ve had in STEM was flying a plane. I did so during a summer camp at Embry-Riddle my sophomore year of high school and decided from then I wanted a private pilots license.