Elena Shrestha Aerospace Engineering PhD Student · University of Maryland (Photo by Jennifer Figgins Rooks)

Elena Shrestha

Aerospace Engineering PhD Student · University of Maryland

“I really started enjoying engineering after taking part in the FIRST Robotics team in high school. FIRST hosts robotics challenges every year for high school students. I still think about building and programming my first robot, strategizing with my team over the design, and spending late nights at the high school during the height of the build season. FIRST Robotics became more than an extracurricular activity for me, it was a life-changing experience because I got to create things in the face of seemingly endless challenges.”

My research is on developing the cyclocopter, a novel rotary micro air vehicle that relies on cycloidal rotors (cyclorotors). Unlike a helicopter rotor, cyclorotor rotates about a horizontal axis and the blades passively pitch along the circular trajectory. One key advantage of using the cyclorotor is its thrust vectoring capability, which enables the cyclocopter to achieve a level attitude in forward flight. The cyclocopter concept actually originated in the early 1900s, but only recently demonstrated successful flight. Since 2010, I have been a part of an exceptional team of researchers at the University of Maryland who made the cyclocopter concept come to fruition. At the time, many people in the research community were skeptical of the cyclocopter’s ability to fly. Through hard work, we were not only able to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept, but also highlight its advantages. In the future, I hope that cyclocopters will become prevalent just like quadcopters.”

“Research is a fundamentally open-ended pursuit and as a PhD student, I often find it challenging to set a good direction for myself and to stay focused. When my work gets challenging and staying motivated becomes difficult, I actually step back and take a quick break from the problem. Clearing my head really helps me realize the ultimate goals of the tasks at hand. I think we are all attracted by the idea of dramatic breakthroughs but I’ve learned to appreciate the value of making progress slowly. No work is ever a wasted effort because I do believe we learn as much from our failures as we do from success, even if it takes a long time to recover from short-term frustrations.”

“It’s never too late to learn something new even if it appears intimidating. When I first started learning how to code, I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information that I needed to know. I realized that feeling overwhelmed is the first and the most important step in learning that almost everyone encounters. You are definitely not alone. These days, there are ample amount resources available online that anyone can go through and learn at their own pace.”

“I was one of the co-founders for Women In Aeronautics and Astronautics (WIAA) at the University of Maryland. WIAA is comprised of both undergraduate and graduate students working towards improving retention rate and enrollment of women pursuing Aerospace Engineering. We host technical workshops to introduce and improve skill sets ranging from programming (C — Arduino, MATLAB) to prototyping (CAD, 3-D printing). I hope that more universities also establish groups like WIAA and foster a welcoming environment for students of diverse backgrounds.”