She IS Fierce: Kailey

Meet Kailey (my sis)! She’s got a lot to say, and does a pretty cool job now…even if I have no idea what it is she ACTUALLY does. ha.


Name Kailey Draves
Age 26
Career/Business/Art Aerospace Engineering
Title (If applicable) Production Support Engineer
Location Grand Rapids, Michigan
Website/Social Media aerogirl12 – Instagram
Degrees B.S. Aerospace Engineering
Schools University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign



List three fun facts about yourself. 

1) I love playing music. I am in a concert band in the suburbs of Grand Rapids that meets every week and plays throughout the community. I play the trumpet and piano.

2) Since moving out the Grand Rapids, I have been here for 3.5 years, I have totaled 3 cars. Two of these cars have been VW Beetles and I have earned myself the nickname “The Exterminator” at work. (I promise only 1 of the 3 accidents were my fault!)

3) I am an avid college football fan. Every Saturday, in the fall you, can find me glued to the TV watching the Fighting Illini take on their weekly opponent. Yes, I know the Illini are in a dry spell. I grew up a Cubs fan, what can I say, I am used to it.

Tell us about your beginning. Where did you start, who were you “back in the day”.

I grew up the youngest of two in a small farm town northwest of Chicago. I was your typical know it all kid. I did every activity known to man: band, orchestra, hip-hop (my shortest and worst activity choice), Student Council, National Honors Society, Math Team, Volleyball.

I went to college with high hopes. I was going get my degree in Aerospace Engineering with a minor in Physics and a pre-law designation, so I could go to law school and get a position in space policy. I was also going to get an awesome GPA my first semester and petition to be an honors student. All of this was going to happen while I was a Trumpet in the Marching Illini. SPOILER ALERT. I achieved one of these things, my AE degree.

College was to this day, the hardest thing I have done. I went from a small school with a graduating class of 200 to single classes of 350+. It was a rude awakening. The saying about being a big fish in a small pound has never rung truer for me. I muddled through my freshman year, trying to stay afloat in classes with people way smarter than me. Things that were a review for most kids in my lectures were brand new to me. For those that are STEM inclined, I dont think I ever directly learned what a vector was. It was always just a review, like I was supposed to know what it was already.

Sophomore year, everything hit the fan. I was taking a high credit hour load, classes weren’t even remotely a review anymore. I tried so hard to keep up with school, band, friends, and other organizations. Emphasis on TRY….I did not. That semester I walked away completely defeated. I got  C’s and D’s and landed on academic probation. What a punch to the gut, right? This was a huge turning point for me, though. I learned about resources available to me in my department, met so many amazing classmates because I was spending time in my department’s lab way more, and got the help I needed. I even made one of my hardest choices as a young adult, quit marching band. The next 2.5 years went much smoother. I was able to focus on my classes more and still got to play in other ensembles. Dont get me wrong college was still suuuper hard, but it went much smoother after that terrible semester. I was able to graduate on time and with my friends! I-L-L

After college I got a job at a small company in northern Illinois. It was a great first job, but nothing like what I envisioned my post college life to look like. After one year there I was offered a job in West Michigan doing something much more in tune with what I was looking for.

Tell us about who you are today. What are you doing and why are you doing it.

Today, I am a production support engineer for a defense contractor in West Michigan. I work on a giant 12 cylinder diesel engine that is used in tanks in the US Military. It is a far cry from building rockets, which is what I went to school for, but right now I absolutely love it. When I graduated college, I had this image of going to work in a power suit with heals every day. Kicking ass and taking names. Let me tell you, that is far from what I do every day. My day to day looks much more like me in greasy khakis, with steel toe shoes, and my hair up hunched over a hot engine trying to troubleshoot problems. I unquestionably love it!
I have never thought about my “why”. I guess you could say I am doing this because I love it. Science has always been something I loved and when I found out what engineering was, I jumped on board with that. I want to make a difference through engineering.

What’s your favorite part of your job/business/career?

My favorite part of my career is getting to do what I love. I have always wanted to be an engineer, so being able to do that is fantastic. There is something incredibly exhilarating seeing your ideas and solutions work and being implemented. You spend hours trying to get a model to work or a problem fixed and then finally it runs beautifully. There is nothing quite as satisfying as that.
Actually, just kidding, my favorite part is saying I am a rocket scientist. hahaha

What is your “why”? Why do you do what you do and show up everyday?

My why is pretty generic, but I love what I do. Going to work is fun for me. I love problem solving and making an impact on something. What I do matters. I also have a desire to keep pusing forward in my career. I won’t be able to move forward if I don’t succeed and focus on the now.

What advice do you have for women trying to do what you do?

Show up ready to go. Don’t let anyone’s opinion but your own matter. You CAN do it. You ARE meant to be there. There are going to be hard days. Sometimes you’ll feel alone or that you can’t do it. You can though! Also, find a group of people that are in the same boat as you. Other females in your job, even if not the same position. Stay in touch with girls from college. Join a group outside of work that has people in your niche. If you have a great support system with people who get it, it is not as hard.

What advice do you have young women trying to figure out their path in life?

Try so many things! You want to spend your life doing things you love. To know what you love, you must do things you hate first. Many of you know my sister is a dancer, well, because of that I decided I was going to be a hip-hop dancer in middle school. I quickly figured out I wasn’t one and that is something that doesn’t make me happy.

Also, don’t shut any doors. Whether that is making sure you do well in school, even though you know you’re going to be a musician and won’t need to take derivatives or supporting that person you met once at a conference. You never know where life is going to take you, having every option available will make things a tad bit easier in the end.

What future plans do you have? What are you looking forward to most.

Long term, I still plan to chase my dream of building rockets and being in mission control for a launch. That is what I have dreamed of since I was at least 10 and I am well on my way to getting there. I would also like to get my MBA and move up in my career to a manager of people or projects. I am really looking forward to where my career will take me, or more where I will take my career.

I also want to have an impact in the STEM world. I spent a lot of time in college promoting STEM work to high schoolers and it was so fulfilling. I also had the opportunity to work 2 summers at a Girls Adventures in Math Engineering and Science camp. Seeing middle school and high school girls be excited about STEM was awesome. I want to find an outlet for this in my professional life. This could be a STEM blog, working with schools and organizations, or being a resource for others. I don’t have this part of my life mapped out completely yet, but it something I want to get to.

Any last comments on today’s social environment for women? Any other items you’d like to share?

Keep going and chasing your dreams! You got this. Things are slowly changing and YOU can make them change quicker.

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