From the soccer field to electric fields, aerospace engineering degrees propel Bronco toward career success

Contact: Erin Flynn

Hannah Sargent earned bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering from Western while racking up a successful career on the Bronco women's soccer team.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Soccer has long been a passion for goalkeeper Hannah Sargent, who will graduate from Western Michigan University in summer 2023 with the third-most career shutouts in program history and tied for most wins in a season for the Broncos. But she also gets a kick out of engineering—a penchant that will propel her into the next phase of her career.

While competing as a decorated student-athlete—she recently received the MAC Medal of Excellence and has been named to several all-district and all-conference teams during her tenure on the Western women's soccer team—Sargent racked up relevant research experience in aerospace engineering. As a Lee Honors College scholar, she was named the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering's Presidential Scholar in both 2020 and 2021 and earned her bachelor's degree in 2021 before finishing the accelerated master's program this summer.

The astronomical success she's seen at Western is due in large part to the quality of the University's aerospace engineering program, one of just two programs of its kind in the state. It's what drew Sargent to Kalamazoo when she was being recruited early on in her high school career.

"I knew I wanted to do something in engineering; I always liked math and science growing up," says Sargent, of Lewis Center, Ohio. "There aren't a whole lot of schools in the Midwest that offer aerospace as a specific major. But Western had contacted me, so I looked into it. … And I ended up really liking it."


Hannah Sargent runs through a tunnel made by her teammates.

Sargent graduates with the third-most career shutouts in Western women's soccer history and tied for most wins in a season for the Broncos.

While competing as an NCAA Division I athlete was demanding, Sargent's hard work off the field bolstered by support from the program's expert faculty helped her to excel in her classes.

Her senior year, under the mentorship of Dr. Parviz Merati, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Sargent collaborated with other students to design a full-scale plastic pyrolysis plant aimed at reducing plastic waste while creating alternative fuel. The team also worked alongside industry experts such as Chad Clark, a pioneer in clean energy and air pollution control technologies, and semiconductor researcher and developer Cary Allen.

"It was very illuminating to work on this kind of project," she says. "This kind of thing could have real-world implications especially with the way our world is currently heading with the amount of plastic produced."

Sargent's graduate work gave her an opportunity to explore her interest in space technology more deeply. She worked closely with Presidential Innovation Professor Dr. Kristina Lemmer, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, researching satellite propulsion in the Aerospace Laboratory for Plasma Experiments. Her thesis work involved developing a method to propel a thruster for satellites.

"I definitely want to do something in satellite propulsion (after graduation)," says Sargent, who is on track to finish her studies after the summer II semester.

On top of lab work on campus, Lemmer also connected Sargent with an internship at the United States Naval Research Laboratory, where she was able to put the engineering skills she'd developed at Western into practice in the agency's space propulsion lab.

"My experience at the Naval Research Lab was eye-opening and an excellent learning experience," says Sargent. "Working and learning from people who are leaders in my field of interest was amazing, and while I was there I just tried to soak in as much information as I could. They were great people to work with, and I even played some summer soccer with one of them when he said he needed a goalkeeper for his team!"


Hannah Sargent tosses a soccer ball in the air while wearing her graduation cap and gown.

"The opportunities that I've gotten from Western have prepared me for my career," Sargent says.

Through Lee Honors College, Sargent also had several opportunities to broaden her knowledge base and become a more well-rounded student outside the classroom.

"I was taking Utopian/Dystopian Fiction and World Cinema—definitely things completely opposite of engineering—but I really enjoyed them because it was a different way to use my mind," she says. "(Lee Honors College) is also really big on volunteer hours, so I got to do a lot of cool volunteering experiences while at Western," such as work in nursing homes, coach Special Olympics athletes and mentor refugees.

Sargent also gained leadership and communication experience as the lead of public outreach for the Space Weather Atmospheric Reconfigurable Multiscale Experiment (SWARM-EX), an intercollegiate mission funded by the National Science Foundation to launch three small, student-built satellites into the upper atmosphere. As a graduate assistant, she helps organize collaborations between universities for continued education as well as establish and maintain relationships with public interest-group representatives.

"The opportunities that I've gotten from Western have prepared me for my career," she says. "I feel like I (cultivated) the skills to be able to get started somewhere, so it's exciting and scary at the same time."

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