By Taylor Alexander, as told to Emily Gabaldon
It wasn’t an easy feat studying aerospace engineering while recovering from jaw surgery.
I was born with a birth defect that resulted in a severe craniofacial deformity and I have overcome several surgeries and iterations of braces throughout my life. Just two weeks prior to starting my sophomore year at Arizona State University (ASU), I underwent a major procedure — maxillofacial surgery to help correct the deformity I had been dealing with my whole life.
Recovery was brutal; it took a full year before I felt like myself again. For the first few months, eating solid food was a challenge and my energy was low. To help speed up recovery, my doctor encouraged me to get back to “normal life” as quickly as possible and so, without hesitation, I went back to being a full-time student and an intern. It wasn’t long before I realized the workload was too much to handle during my recovery, though; I dropped one of my engineering courses and cut back on my internship hours.
I remember telling my grandfather that I was struggling. “You’ve got this,” he said. “It didn’t come to me right away either.” I was incredibly close with my grandfather, who had also studied aerospace engineering. When I was accepted into the aerospace engineering program at ASU, he’d enthusiastically handed me his old engineering books — written mostly in German, as he had studied in Germany — and said he was excited to have a grandchild follow in his footsteps.
Thanks to my grandfather’s reassurance, along with the support of my parents and family, I was able to finish out the semester and get back on track with my engineering degree. After graduating in 2017, I got a job as a systems engineer at Northrop Grumman in Chandler, Arizona.
I established the Engineering Scholarship for Students with Craniofacial Deformities at ASU, utilizing Northrop Grumman’s donation matching program.
— Taylor Alexander, Systems Engineer
I’ve enjoyed staying involved with the ASU community since graduation by supporting Northrop Grumman recruitment efforts at career fairs, staying in touch with professors through sharing my career experiences in their classrooms and, most recently, starting my own scholarship for ASU engineering students who, like I did, have craniofacial abnormalities.
My experience undergoing maxillofacial surgery as a student compelled me to give back, knowing that not every student has the financial or family support that I did. But it was my grandfather — who not only provided emotional support to me after my surgery but provided scholarships to students at his alma mater — who inspired how I decided to give back.
In 2021, I established the Engineering Scholarship for Students with Craniofacial Deformities at ASU, utilizing Northrop Grumman’s donation matching program. The scholarship was awarded to its first recipient for the 2022-2023 academic year.
I’ve worked incredibly hard to bring hope and awareness to others of similar circumstances, see the scholarship grow and to continue my support as an alumna. My family and community have helped me get to where I am today — a successful engineer who designs and launches rockets for a living. I’m thrilled to be able to give back.
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