Five self-described Space nerds, now pursuing studies in engineering, medicine and business at Western, are looking to leave their mark on Canada’s Space industry.
They all grew up obsessed with Space. It led them to apply for internships and mentors through the Zenith Canada Pathways Foundation, which seeks to make the Space industry more inclusive and diverse in terms of background and specialization.
Those five students make up almost a quarter of the Zenith Canada Pathways Foundation program, dubbed “Canada’s Space Fellowship,” which includes 23 university students in total.
“For us, it’s so impactful to have that talent in Canada. Our country is huge, we have diversity of talent, people who work in different industries who are primed to contribute to Space research and technology, and we need to tap into that. So that’s a huge success for us,” said Hira Nadeem, MESc‘23, president and co-founder of the Zenith Canada Pathways Foundation.
Rafael Estrada, a fourth-year dual degree student of mechatronics systems engineering and business administration, will intern with Euroconsult, a Space consulting firm headquartered in Montreal with more than 1,200 clients across the globe.
“I saw that to be a really big opportunity in terms of future development, working with global entities and not just in North America. It’s super exciting to be working at Euroconsult, because it allows me to get exposure to the Space industry while working on my business skills, and meet people to build up my professional network,” Estrada said.
Since he was little, he knew he wanted to study Space.
“My curiosity always led me to look up at the stars. I’ve always been a huge Space nerd. I’d go to observatories a lot as a kid. I was always fascinated; every time you look at a star, it could be another solar system.”
Estrada is originally from Colombia, immigrating with his family in 2006. His mother is an engineer and his father is in business, so he got a range of advice about what to study at university. Western’s dual degree program allowed him to take both paths.
“My parents took a really big gamble on bringing our family here,” Estrada said. “My end goal is just to make my parents and my family proud and make the most out of the opportunities I’ve been given,” he said.
Estrada gave credit to the strong showing by his peers, four other students representing Western in the Space fellowship.
Nima Abbaszadeh, Cameron Brooks, Jessica Kerr and Sana Raisfirooz have been matched with mentors in the Canadian Space industry through the Zenith Fellowship.
Fellows in their own words
The Western connection: The third-year dual degree student in mechanical engineering and computer science is also a member of the Western Engineering Rocketry Team.
“I started as propulsion lead, now I’m aerostructure lead (the team responsible for building the rocket body) and next year I’ll be captain – just moving my way up in Western Engineering Rocketry Team.”
The inspiration: “I really fell in love with Space. I’m always curious and there’s a lot of unknowns with Space and what our actual capabilities will be. That’s something I really like. I like developing things, trying out new manufacturing techniques.”
Hopes from the fellowship: “I’m just so excited to learn and make more connections in the Space industry and meet so many cool people.”
The Western connection: He is a third-year integrated science student with a specialization in environmental science.
“I’ve sort of put myself into the two fast-growing fields of environmental science and Space. There’s so much happening and it gives us new ways to do new things. They’re trying to grow plants in Space – one of the applications is that you can grow plants without a ton of water, that’s useful for people in desert countries. It leads to progress on Earth, when you see progress in Space,” he said.
The inspiration: As a child, Abbaszadeh had a solar system on his ceiling. When he participated in the Shad Valley enrichment program at the University of PEI as a teenager, he heard from the school’s CubeSat team, designing a small satellite to launch into Space. He later joined Western’s team to work on building the nano satellite.
Hopes from the fellowship: “Everyone is really accomplished. It’s a good network to have. The mentors are all amazing people. The opportunity to pick their brains is incredible,” he said.
The Western connection: The second-year medical sciences student is also a member of Western’s CubeSat team.
“Entering my second year, I was determined to immerse myself in the exciting world of spacetech. I’ve always had a ‘figure-it-out’ mentality and followed my curiosity. Through perseverance, I’ve been able to make significant strides towards my goal and secure exciting opportunities,” she said.
The inspiration: “I love ‘cutting edge’ technologies that push the boundaries of what we thought possible – those that evoke a sense of wonder. While many view the future with pessimism, I believe in taking a technologically optimistic approach, one where we can leverage technology to address modern challenges,” she said.
Hopes from the fellowship: “I’m thrilled to receive the fellowship and look forward to meeting my mentor, Marianne Mader, CEO of the Canadian Association of Science Centres. I’m eager to gain insights and learn from their expertise. It’s truly inspiring to see experienced professionals generously investing their time to guide and support students like me,” Raisfirooz said.
The Western connection: He is a third-year electrical engineering student.
“Western is very interdisciplinary. Having the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration here definitely helps. It gives an opportunity to science students as well as engineering students to apply what they’ve learned,” he said.
The inspiration: “Entrepreneurship isn’t something you can just look up on the internet. It’s really valuable to learn from people who have those experiences.“
Hopes from the fellowship: “The biggest thing I’m excited about is the mentorship aspect. My mentor, Donya Naz Divsalar, has done research and runs a company called Caidin Biotechnologies, a Canadian start-up that aims to improve human health and performance in Space. I’m really interested in entrepreneurship and research after graduation,” said Brooks.