Eye on the Sky: Sarahi Granados '21

uc davis mechanical aerospace engineering alumni sarahi granados james webb telescope northrup grumman
Photo courtesy of Sarahi Granados.

As President Biden revealed the first images from NASA’s James Webb Telescope this July, Sarahi Granados '21 was on the edge of her seat. After falling in love with space in second grade, she had been determined to make her mark on the industry ever since.  

Granados joined the Webb Telescope project in 2019 during a summer internship and played a role in inspecting, validating and analyzing the telescope’s attitude control system. The system is what helps the telescope maintain a stable orbit and, most importantly, point it in the right direction to take pictures. When she saw the first image and knew her hard work had paid off, she couldn’t help but feel proud.  

The entire world was in awe, and to be able to say that I worked on the instrument that captured a tiny speck of space in an image had me feeling proud,” she said. “My second-grade self would not believe it.” 

The path from second-grader to Webb Telescope engineer wasn’t an easy one for Granados, especially as a first-generation Latina woman in engineering, but she’s incredibly grateful for the education, resources and connections at UC Davis that helped her get there. 

“I knew which direction I was going, I just needed help getting there and that is exactly what UC Davis did,” she said. There were so many resources that I took advantage of that really helped shape my career and get to where I am.” 

uc davis webb telescope engineering alumni sarahi granados
A Webb Telescope photo of the Carina Nebula. Granados worked on the telescope's attitude control systems, which help the telescope point in the right direction to take photos. Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Granados is particularly grateful for the Leadership in Engineering Advancement, Diversity and Retention (LEADR) program, which offered her support from the summer before her first year through graduation. She was especially struck by the helpfulness of the program’s advisors at the time, Tanya Whitlow and Laura Hackett, who encouraged her to pursue a more well-rounded college experience and connected her with professionals at NASA, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. 

“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for Tanya, Laura and the LEADR program,” she said. “I came into college with the illusion that I needed a 4.0 and nothing else to be successful, but it wasn’t until Laura and Tanya advised me that I [realized I needed to] become more involved on campus.” 

With their advice in mind, Granados attended her professors’ office hours and tutoring sessions when she was struggling with chemistry and calculus. As she began looking for internships and jobs, she also attended resume, cover letter and mock interview workshops at the Internship and Career Center to prepare her for a career in industry. 

“The courses were challenging, but the faculty were extremely helpful, my classmates were cooperative, and there was an excessive number of resources on campus,” she said. 

She also became involved with the Chicanx and Latinx Engineers and Scientists Society (CALESS) at UC Davis, where she was able to network with other Latinx students in STEM. It’s also how she found the internship at Northrup GrummanCALESS supported her to attend the Great Minds in STEM conference in 2019, where she was recruited. For the next two summers, she worked on the Webb Telescope project’s final phase and was hired full-time after graduating with degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 2021.

uc davis mechanical aerospace engineering alumni james webb telescope sarahi granados northrup grumman
Granados with the Webb Telescope in 2019. Photo courtesy of Sarahi Granados.

“The best outcomes in my life have come from moments that were unplanned or situations that I never imagined myself in, such as moving hundreds of miles away from home, attending a career fair and conference, or emailing a professor for a lab position,” she said. Doing things that are challenging and that one is not accustomed to is scary, but so worth it.” 

Granados looks forward to working on the next generation of vehicles as a space systems architect at Northrup Grumman. Though all of the company’s upcoming space vehicles are in the design/conceptual stages, she is excited to contribute by modeling and drawing the interfaces between different subsystems.   

“Every day is something new,” she said. “Whether it is a new discovery in space, new technology or new ideas, I am always excited to see what new discoveries we make every day and how I can take part in it.” 

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