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Suffolk student earns fellowship

Lainey Drake, a college student who calls Suffolk her home, earned a spot in the prestigious Brooke Owens Fellowship Program this year.

Drake is a sophomore at Wake Forest University, double majoring in physics and theater. She was one of 566 applicants from 290 universities and 15 countries to apply to this fellowship. She was then one of 40 to be accepted.

The Brooke Owens Fellowship provides internships for young women and other gender minorities in the aerospace industry. Drake went through an eight-month process of submitting essays, interviews and videos to earn a place in the fellowship and get paired with the right mentor.

“I got an internship with Virgin Galactic in the engineering department,” said Drake. “It was really cool because they put me in avionics, and that’s exactly what I want to do. They really listened to me during my interview and placed me with the right team. This experience has been amazing, and I can only imagine it will be better in person.”

Virgin Galactic is located in Las Cruces, N.M., and works as a pioneer in commercial space travel. This summer, Virgin Galactic held a test flight where Drake would be standing on the runway to watch. Unfortunately, COVID-19 ruined those plans. New Mexico has a 14-day quarantine to any commercial flights coming into the state, making her unable to attend the test launch.

“It has been a fun summer despite everything going on,” said Drake. “It hasn’t been an ideal situation, but I can keep interning and making connections, and I am very grateful for that.”

Drake spends her time for her virtual internship attending Zoom calls and working on software and coding for Virgin Galactic’s latest project. The internship has been modified but still allows her to gain experience.

As a sophomore, Drake hopes to fulfill her second internship requirement in person and stay in the Virgin family, either at Virgin Galactic or Virgin Orbit.

“Another internship here may be in the works,” said Drake. “Since I am working remotely now, they might keep me on as part-time through the fall to virtually finish the project. They said they want to fly me out for the next test flight. Hopefully, I will be able to see it in person this time.”

Growing up in a military family, Drake was always moving from place to place. With her family and some friends still in Suffolk, Drake considers Suffolk her home, even though she is currently staying in California.