Embry-Riddle Sophomore Overcomes Adversity, Aims for the Skies

Schyler Williams in the Jet Propulsion Lab
Schyler Williams was selected for the Embry-Riddle-NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) academic exchange program and visited the JPL in Pasadena, California. (Photo: Schyler Williams)

Schyler Williams grew up the youngest of eight children in a dangerous neighborhood. Her parents “did the best they could with what they had,” she said, explaining that her mother and father emphasized good moral values and the importance of education. Despite her parents’ guidance and hard work, however, when Williams was 13, her brother died in a shooting.

“I grew up watching the people around me outside of our home succumb to drugs, gang violence and poverty,” said Williams, an Embry-Riddle sophomore and Jacksonville, Florida, native. “I knew that I wanted and needed to escape that element and create a new reality for myself.”

As a 21-year-old single parent, Williams joined the U.S. Air Force and, realizing she liked hands-on work, pushed to become an aircraft maintenance technician, working on the C-17 (Globemaster III) and the F-15C/D (Eagle).

“I did encounter resistance,” Williams said. “I was underestimated. There were inappropriate comments made because of my sex, race and where I grew up.”

Nonetheless, she persevered and began the next part of her life’s journey. Enrolling at Embry-Riddle in the fall of 2022, Williams began a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Astronomy and Astrophysics. She also plans to pursue a master’s degree.

Brendan Gelb, assistant professor of the practice in the College of Aviation, spoke glowingly of Williams, pointing out that she continues to work full-time while pursuing her studies.

"Not only is she excelling in her academic career," said Gelb, "but she does it while maintaining a full-time job as a tactical aircraft mechanic for the Florida Air National Guard. I have watched her juggle both positions very well, including her role as a mother. I am very excited to observe Schyler’s path to success and to being the leader this industry needs in innovation and creativity."

Williams was recently chosen to participate in the second cohort of the Embry-Riddle-NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) academic exchange program, and she traveled to the JPL in May with 23 other Embry-Riddle students and six faculty members. The program was created by Dr. Eduardo Rojas, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and is sponsored by JPL and Dr. Jim Gregory, dean of Embry-Riddle’s College of Engineering.

“I aspire to be an astronaut, so getting my foot in the door at NASA is important to me,” she said. “When I applied, I expressed my experience in aerospace, as well as my aspirations and interests in space exploration and scientific research. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity.”

Williams said her hard work is ultimately for her daughter’s sake.

“Since being blessed with my daughter, Keilani, she has been my greatest motivation. Any decision I make, I consider how it would affect her,” Williams said. "I started from ground zero; everything that I have accomplished, I did on my own. I’ll do the sacrificing. I want her to start her journey with more.”

Posted In: Engineering