Engineer and Entrepreneur Talks About Being a Diverse Business Leader, Supporting STEM and Traveling to Space
Aisha Bowe is the embodiment of a successful woman. She has a background as a former NASA rocket scientist and is now an entrepreneur and future commercial astronaut. In 2024, she intends to travel to space with Blue Origin on New Shepard as the first Black woman aboard a commercial space flight.
While Bowe is making headlines for her future trip into space, she has also blazed a trail as a diverse business leader. She is on a mission to make a positive impact through her businesses STEMBoard and LINGO, which she founded in 2013. STEMBoard is a technical firm that provides data analytics and IT modernization services to commercial and federal organizations. Passionate about empowering students to pursue careers in STEM, Bowe created LINGO, a self-paced coding kit for learning technical concepts at home.
Bowe spoke with Chamberlain Duru, diverse business manager at Burns & McDonnell, about her experiences as a minority business owner and the influence that STEM and engineering have had on her personal journey. She also talked about her excitement surrounding her upcoming history-making flight as a commercial astronaut.
Chamberlain Duru: You picked a field where there aren’t a lot of women, or African Americans or African American women to really have that connectivity with. Can you tell me how your success came to be and how your community of support came together even though you didn’t have a lot of people who looked like you in particular environments?
Aisha Bowe: As I built my list of accomplishments, I was determined to graduate from an engineering organization and go to work for NASA. I recognized that while there may not have been any role models that looked like me, as soon as I allowed myself to see myself as a role model, I could become one and I could fill that gap. So today I take a lot of joy in sharing all of the things that I thought went wrong but actually went right — and allowing that to inform not only my journey but the journey of people around me.
CD: Can you go back to when you were working for NASA and you were a rock star there, yet something else was calling you? What was the motivation for leaving NASA to open your own business?
AB: Entrepreneurship was calling me slowly and repeatedly on collect because there was no money associated with the decision. It was a really difficult one to make. It took me about two years to put together a plan along with the courage to decide that I was going to make the transition. It really came to a head when I identified a mentor who was a business leader that had walked a similar path and was willing to mentor me in the transition.
While working for the government I looked around and saw all the work that we were doing with our suppliers. I remember thinking that I loved what I was doing, and quite possibly might return when I retire because it was just a wonderful environment. But I wanted to do things on an international scale, and I wanted to have exposure to running my own business and working with nonprofits and on technical things I enjoyed.
Looking at the work that we did with our suppliers, I realized that I could create my own company— that there were actually centers out there designed to help facilitate entrepreneurship. That’s what really helped me make the transition. It was a combination of there being a mentor for me and me having the knowledge others needed. I knew I could essentially take the same mentor-approach that I took when getting an MBA. It was refreshing to know I could do that in business.
CD: Why is STEM so important?
AB: I feel that STEM is the great democratizer. I was a latecomer to the game. I didn’t decide to pursue engineering until I was 18. While I received a wonderful engineering degree and I credit it for many things in my life, it was my ability to embrace analytical thinking as a skill and apply it to problems and turn that into an enterprise that has made me who I am today.
CD: I want to ask you now about space — the final frontier. You are gearing up to actually go into space. What’s on your mind right now?
AB: The thing I think about is being a role model and sharing my experience with as many people as possible because I never imagined this would be my life. The opportunity to travel to space would not have been possible without the innovation, entrepreneurship and ingenuity of thousands of people I have never met.
From SpaceX to Blue Origin, it’s really widening the decision space around who can access these opportunities. For this mission, my focus is to inspire as many people as possible to not only participate in the space economy but to also think of themselves as a part of my particular journey.
CD: Aisha, it was such a pleasure and honor to have you today with us. Thank you so much for your time, energy and charisma.
AB: Thank you. I’m absolutely honored to share my knowledge and experience.
This post is part of Together By Design, a quarterly business diversity newsletter published by Burns & McDonnell to advance a community of inclusion. This newsletter features stories of great opportunity, leaders who bring out the best in others, innovative approaches, and diverse perspectives that shape the business community and the world at large.