Bowman, Phillips Earn Society of Women Engineers Honors

Alice Bowman recalls seeking out a campus television to watch the first space shuttle launch in 1981 and, a few years later, making the few-hour trek from her Pasadena apartment to Edwards Air Force Base to see a shuttle landing. She also remembers the “horrible and unfathomable” experience of watching Challenger break apart minutes after launch in 1986.

That fascination with space inspired an impressive career in space science, and this month Bowman, an engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, will be honored by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) with the 2022 Resnik Challenger Medal, founded in memory of Judith Resnik, who died in the Challenger disaster. It is one of SWE’s most prestigious honors, awarded only as merited for visionary contributions to space programs, and although Bowman said it’s “surreal,” her career accomplishments outline exactly why she is a worthy recipient.

A world-renowned technical expert in spacecraft operations, with more than 35 years of space industry experience, Bowman is mission operations manager of NASA’s New Horizons, as well as supervisor of the Space Mission Operations Group in APL’s Space Exploration Sector.

Among her many career contributions, Bowman personally spearheaded New Horizons’ innovative beacon-hibernation operations design, command planning process and anomaly resolution process. Those technical contributions enabled New Horizons to perform the first-ever reconnaissance of Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects with a limited budget, small mission operations team and limited spacecraft resources.

“Over the course of NASA’s New Horizons program, Bowman has exhibited in-depth technical knowledge, exceptional innovation, extraordinary organizational skills and uncommon judgment in managing crises,” said Sylvie DeLaHunt, a guidance and control engineer in APL’s Air and Missile Defense Sector (AMDS) and fellow SWE member. “She has changed the space industry’s approach to deep-space exploration through her innovative technical contributions and is an inspiration for future generations of women engineers.”

A University of Virginia graduate, Bowman has given more than 200 invited talks and interviews globally since the New Horizons flyby of Pluto in 2015. She is an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and has served on the international committee known as SpaceOps since 2009.

“This award is special because it recognizes my contributions over the span of my career in space exploration. But on a personal level, it’s special because the space shuttle program was such an inspiration to me and was a huge contributing factor to why I chose this career path,” Bowman said. “Being awarded the Resnik Challenger Medal is a validation of all the hard work, never giving up despite setbacks, and a love and passion for the work. The Society of Women Engineers is dedicated to supporting and inspiring women in the field of engineering. I hope that by receiving this award, I can be a small part of that inspiration and support.”

Also to be honored at this year’s SWE conference is APL’s Kerri Phillips, who receives the organization’s Emerging Leader Award, one of its most competitive recognitions, honoring engineering leaders with 10-15 years of experience whose leadership has resulted in significant accomplishments.

An expert in missile guidance and control, flight test analysis, and systems engineering, Phillips was recently appointed as AMDS chief scientist. Immediately prior to that she served as the Laboratory’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting (ISR&T) Program Area manager, leading efforts to develop, prototype and transition state-of-the-art capabilities to revolutionize ISR&T in the U.S. military.

Since joining APL in 2011, Phillips has managed APL’s hypersonic weapons portfolio, led strike systems analyses and served as the APL missile lead for the Missile Defense Agency Sea-Based Terminal Increment 2 program, where she developed and transitioned an innovative algorithm into the missile system, earning a prestigious U.S. DoD Letter of Recognition. She is an associate fellow of the AIAA and has served as a lecturer and instructor at Johns Hopkins University, teaching courses in mechanical and aerospace engineering and technical management.

“Dr. Phillips is an accomplished senior engineering leader, contributing her wealth of program management and technical leadership skills and experiences to shape U.S. DoD programs and strategy,” said DeLaHunt. “Simultaneously, seeking to encourage underrepresented and underserved students to pursue careers in engineering, she is active in the community as a leader, advocate and role model.”

A native of West Virginia, Phillips has spent many hours working with young women, and in 2017, gave a TEDx talk titled, “Don’t Let the Brushback Pitch Take You Out of the Game,” encouraging them to pursue their passions even in the face of adversity. She is also committed to giving back to her community, and says that her involvement in SWE helps her to make an impact where it’s needed.

“My favorite aspect of SWE is the empowering community of women and allies who lift one another up,” Phillips said. “I am honored to receive the SWE Emerging Leader Award and represent APL, which would not have been possible without my colleague, Sylvie DeLaHunt. The most meaningful part is learning that she was moved to nominate me, and that I have had a positive impact through my technical work, leadership and outreach for APL and the nation.”

Phillips received a doctorate in aerospace engineering from West Virginia University, a master’s in systems engineering from Johns Hopkins University and dual bachelor’s degrees in aerospace and mechanical engineering from West Virginia University.