For many Space Engineering students, launching a rocket into the ether is a dream that takes years of school and work experience to achieve. With an unmatched work ethic, infectious passion and strong support network, second-year Space Engineering student Megan Gran’s dreams will be blasting off approximately seven years sooner than expected.
Gran is one of 24 students in the world who has been selected to participate in the Fly a Rocket! program offered by the European Space Agency at the Andøya Space Center in Norway. The program, which requires some pre-training in the months leading up to it, will take place in April. Gran was selected to be a part of the program’s Sensor Experiments team, performing calculations and monitoring how the nine-foot-tall Mongoose 98 rocket, once launched, observes the surrounding environment.
Growing up in Sudbury, Ont., Gran was fascinated by robotics and space as a child, spending much of her time tinkering with robotics kits, micro controllers, Lego and Meccano. Her mom, a market researcher and statistician, and her dad, a chief financial officer and CPA, encouraged her to explore her passion for engineering. Despite being top of her class in physics and math, Gran’s mom told her that pursuing an education in engineering wasn’t something she considered a possibility for herself at the time. Her dad, a hobbyist tinkerer who helped her learn coding at a young age, opted for a career in accounting and business despite being offered a spot in systems design engineering.
“When my parents saw that engineering spark in me, they saw the pieces of themselves they were never able to test out,” said Gran. “They are very proud of me because I am living my dreams and passion.”
The Canada-Wide Science Fair was her first foray into building robots to accomplish tasks. Two trips to the national competition netted her two bronze medals. From there, she sought out mentors in high school, many of them math teachers she worked closely with as the lead of her high school’s FIRST Robotics team (4069 LoEllen Robotics). “I always get along with math teachers,” she said.
But not everyone who crossed Gran’s path saw her potential. Her voice changes slightly recalling a moment in Grade 5, just before her love for robotics and space ramped up, when a teacher told her parents, “Science doesn’t seem to be for her.” She switched schools the following year.
When it came time to consider post-secondary education, the Space Engineering program offered by the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University stood out.
“It’s a happy medium [between robotics and aerospace]. You get a lot of robotics learning but you also learn about payload design,” said Gran. “I didn’t see a program like it anywhere else in Ontario.”
Her first year was spent in a blur of classes and studying. In the pursuit of getting top grades and graduating as quickly as possible, she took on extra courses so that she could realize her dreams of building a rocket. The heavy course load meant that penciling in time for extracurricular activities, as she had done in high school, was next to impossible. Heading into second year, Gran dropped some classes so that she could fit in time for extracurricular learning and joined the York University Robotics Society, a student club.
On her friend’s recommendation, Gran applied to the Fly a Rocket! program, realizing that with a more balanced course load she’d have the time to participate fully in her studies and the program.
“[My peers] at Lassonde, specifically in Space Engineering, are very passionate about everything they do,” she said. “Professors, even better, are extremely receptive to that. They really want the best for us and they aren’t looking to throw up some slides and get us out. They want school to be an experience.”
This unyielding support from fellow students and professors gave Gran confidence that her decision was the right one. Being chosen as one of 24 students to attend the prestigious rocket program solidified that notion.
“I realized school is only temporary,” she said. “Ironically, I am getting to launch that rocket seven years sooner than planned because I let myself be happy.
“Ultimately, I want to make a change, make something impactful for the world and put something into space,” she added. “It still hasn’t sunk in: I’m launching a rocket – into space!”
By Raquel Farrington, Lassonde School of Engineering