The Washington Aerospace Scholars Foundation

Mission Statement

Washington Aerospace Scholars aims to increase the number of students seeking degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields through academic study, project-based learning, and experimentation with an emphasis on critical thinking and self-evaluation.

2021 Board of Directors

Veronica Bronkema - WASF President

Veronica Bronkema is a WAS alumni parent with over 10 years' experience as a business operations leader with expertise in change management, LEAN environment, safety and compliance, public relations, sales, marketing, and business process. She currently serves as Regional Program & Operations Executive for the WA Department of Labor and Industries, where she previously managed outreach and advocacy with the Hispanic community. Veronica has a BA in Marketing Management from Universidad Juarez and an MPA from the University of Washington. She is also a graduate of the Foster School of Business Women Board Directors Development Program and an alumna United Way of King County's Project LEAD (Leadership Effectiveness and Diversity).

Heather Nelson - WASF Secretary 2019-2022

Heather Nelson is Senior Manager University Relations, at Blue Origin. In this role she manages the higher education engagement portfolio and fosters and maintains strong relationships with targeted higher education institutions including faculty, administrative staff, students, diversity groups, and hands-on engineering teams. She supervises Blue Origin's year-round Internship Program, New Graduate Recruiting Programs, and Blue's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive efforts for Talent Acquisition. Prior to Blue Origin, Heather was at Penn State where she was the Assistant Director for NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium, the Education and Public Outreach Coordinator for the Penn State Astrobiology Research Center and a Project Assistant in the GeoFluids Research Group. She has a BS in Environmental Resource Management from Penn State and has earned credits towards a Masters in Astronomy Education from Penn State.

Chelsea Olson - WASF Vice President & Treasurer

Chelsea Olson is currently an Electrical Engineer/Design & Analysis Engineer at Amazon. She graduated from the University of Washington with her MS in Electrical and Electronics Engineering in 2015 and her BS in Electrical and Electronics Engineering in 2012. She is 2007 WAS program alumni and currently serves as a mentor in Amelia's Aero Club at The Museum of Flight. She is also a long-time volunteer and coach for FIRST robotics.

Brian Douglas

Brian Douglas is a control systems engineer and systems engineering manager with experience building a team from scratch, working all phases of a development program from pre-concept through operation, and removing confusion in an otherwise chaotic environment. His domain expertise is in spacecraft attitude determination and control and was the lead ADCS architect for two different successful spacecraft missions. After completing a BS in Aerospace Engineering, Brian went on to complete his MS at University of Southern California, with a focus on Dynamics and controls. He worked at the Boeing Company on multiple on multiple projects including Boeing Nanosatellite Manufacturing and Guidance, Navigation and Control with the 737Max and 747-8 aircraft. From 2013-2018, Brian worked at Planetary Resources on the Arkyd-6 6U cubesat as the Attitude Determination and Control System lead and as the Director of Systems Engineering. He currently is the founder of Engineering Media LLC and serves as a consultant for Mathworks and Pluto VR and makes educational videos, solves general engineering problems, and gives onsite training and workshops. He is also the founder and content creator for Control System Lectures, an educational YouTube channel dedicated to providing a simple and intuitive understanding of control systems.

Matt Hayes- President/CEO The Museum of Flight

Matt Hayes joined the Museum of Flight in March 2006. Since then Hayes has held many posts, from B-17 restoration volunteer, to Vice President of Finance and Administration, and Chief Financial Officer from 2006 to 2017. In his current role as President/CEO, Hayes is responsible for directing the museum's long-term strategic planning process and ensuring that the Museum reaches its goal of becoming the foremost educational air and space museum in the world.

From 2002 to 2006, Hayes worked as the CFO for Alliance for Education in Seattle as an Audit Senior Manager, where he played a key role in driving the organization's strategic planning process. Hayes introduced business modeling to the organization, which resulted in making operating processes more cohesive and effective. He worked with Deloitte & Touche LLP at the Philadelphia office from 1993 to 1995, and then took a position in Seattle from 1995 to 2002. Hayes grew up in the rural western New York town of Byron and moved to Seattle in 1995.

He attended Villanova University where he earned a B.S. in Accounting magna cum laude and passed the CPA exam in November 1994. Hayes has served on multiple non-profit boards and is active in the community. As a pilot, Hayes has Commercial, Instrument and Seaplane ratings.

Marisa Herrera

In her past roles, both as an education administrator, consultant and small business owner, Marisa leverages her knowledge of inclusive practices, human resource management, marketing, operations management, budgeting and systems architecture in order to increase efficiencies in the areas of diversity engagement as a consultant for companies and non-profit organizations. In her most recent role as a Vice President for Shoreline Community College and as the Executive Director for Community Building and Inclusion at the University of Washington, she has managed a diverse portfolio of organizations dedicated to equity.

Her personal experiences working alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu, extensive travel experience circumnavigating the world in 2010, and expertise in the globalization of business, add to her orientation towards being a leader in the creation of inclusive space and organizations committed to inclusion. She has served as a Commissioner on the City of Seattle Human Rights Commission, as a Commissioner to the Washington State Student Services Commission for Career and Technical Colleges, as well as on several national advisory boards including the Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship, National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education, College Board Native American Student Advocacy Institute, the Washington State Coalition for Undocumented Students, and Girl Scouts. She holds a Doctorate from the University of Southern California, a M.S. degree in Business Management from NAU and B.S. in Agribusiness from ASU. She is originally from a small town in Arizona, but calls Whatcom County home.

Melissa Dubois - WASF Director

Melissa Dubois is the Director of the South Metro-Salem STEM Partnership, a regional collaborative hosted by the Oregon Institute of Technology. The partnership comprises more than 40 stakeholders in STEM education, including those from K-12 schools and districts, higher education, business and industry, and community STEM education providers. Dr. Dubois comes to education following a career in applied microbiology. She earned a Ph.D. in microbiology (University of Wisconsin, 2005) and moved to Portland to conduct her postdoctoral research at the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. She lives in Hillsboro, OR with her husband and two young daughters.

Ken Nsimbi

Ken Nsimbi is the Youth Programs Contract Manager at King County Housing Authority overseeing KCHA's Out-of-School time initiative targeted at improving the academic and life outcomes of the 2,500 youth served in programs across 15 housing sites. Ken brings over 15 years of experience working with young people to his work. Ken's experience as a man of color and first generation immigrant is his driving force to serving populations whose voices have been muted by society. Prior to KCHA, Ken mentored and served as an advocate for homeless youth in Seattle, was a donor relations manager for Urban Impact and head counselor at Ballard Boys and Girls Club. Ken received his BS in Human Services from the University of Phoenix and serves on several Boards of Directors, including World Relief Seattle and the New Horizons Homeless Youth Shelter. Ken is also the Racial Equity Co-Chair for the King County Housing Authority.

Trip Switzer VP of Development -The Museum of Flight

Trip Switzer is the Vice President of Development for The Museum of Flight.. Moving to Seattle from New York in the mid-1990s to pursue a career in education, Trip served as annual fund director at Lakeside School, where he also taught and coached the rowing team for six years. From there, he moved to Seattle University, spending two years as a major gifts officer. Most recently, he launched the West Coast fundraising program at Conservation International where he spent seven years as a regional director, helping to place fundraising staff in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He also served for six years as a board member with Northwest Development Officers Association - the region's largest professional training and networking association for fundraisers where he has been board president for the past year. Prior to his time in the non-profit sector, Trip worked in advertising sales for Parade and Reader's Digest magazines in New York City. A cum laude graduate of Harvard University with a degree in history, he lives in the Wedgwood neighborhood of Seattle with his wife, Ann, his eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son, where he is active at Wedgwood School and in the local community.

Jovonia (Jo) Taylor-Thibert

Jovonia (Jo) Taylor-Thibert is currently Director of Engineering at Amazon. In 2005, she successfully completed dual Bachelors degrees in Electrical Engineering and Music from The University of Tulsa. The following year, she obtained a Masters in Electrical Engineering in 2006. While working full time, she completed a Masters's in Business Administration, graduating in June 2012. Jovonia worked for the Boeing Company for 16 years before joining Amazon as a lead engineer on drone programming. In the beginning of her career, Jovonia worked as an engineer on the JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) production team and later worked as a hardware engineer for F-18 Avionics. Jovonia has also worked in many capacities within the 787 Electrical Team including Wire Design, Wire Installation, Project Manager for the 787 Electrical Value Stream Team. She also worked as a SKU (Sight Key User) expert, as the 787 program set-up their Customer Introduction Processes and Tools. Jovonia was one of lead project engineers on the 787 airplane level integration project for wiring changes that were to be incorporated into the flight test airplanes. She also works with high school students that are preparing themselves for college or other life training. She tutors in math, science, spends time at their school sporting events or serves as a talent show judge. Outside of work, Jovonia is able to use her degree in music by singing Jazz, R&B, and Gospel at different venues. She has also performed at sporting events the United States National Anthem and the Canadian National Anthem.

Chris Voorhees

Chris Voorhees is President and Chief Engineer at First Mode, where he oversees the development and deployment of engineered solutions for projects around the globe and throughout the solar system. He has over 20 years of experience in the design, integration, test, and operation of complex robotic systems for the exploration of space and extreme terrestrial environments. Previously, Mr. Voorhees was Chief Engineer at Planetary Resources, where he led the company's technology development and flight demonstrations for its mineral exploration mission. Prior to that, he was a senior member of staff at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he held significant roles in several robotic space missions, including as Chief Mechanical Engineer for the Curiosity Rover on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Mission and Mobility Systems Engineer for NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers (MER), Spirit and Opportunity. He was awarded NASA's Exceptional Achievement Medal and NASA's Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal for his efforts on MER and MSL, respectively.


Ardell J. Anderson
Board Member from 2008-2014

Ardell Anderson retired in 2001 after 37 years in the Commercial Airplane and Engine Business, having served in leadership roles in engineering, product development, marketing management, sales, customer service and quality improvement.

Ardell spent 29 years with the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group in Seattle, Washington, and then served 8 years with Pratt & Whitney's Commercial Engine Business in Hartford, Connecticut. Raised in Pennsylvania, and making his first trip west of Pittsburgh, he began his career with Boeing in Seattle in 1964 as a member of the aerodynamics technology staff, participating in the design development and certification of the 737 and 747 jetliners. As director of 747&767 product development and marketing management he led the efforts to develop the 747-400 and 767-300ER models. After being appointed director of new product development for the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group and spearheading efforts with NASA to develop a high speed civil transport, Ardell served in leadership roles for 737, 757, and 777 product development and as director of Commercial Airplane Group's Continuous Quality improvement.

He was named Senior Vice President, Asia/Pacific, for Pratt & Whitney's Commercial Engine business unit in November 1993. He was responsible for new engine and overhaul / repair sales for regional airline customers, and then later served as head of worldwide customer service for Pratt & Whitney. Mr. Anderson holds a BS degree in Aerospace Engineering, a BA degree in Arts & Letters from the Pennsylvania State University, and an MBA in Marketing from Seattle University. In 1995 Penn State honored him as an Outstanding Engineering Alumnus of the University.

Nikhil K. Rao
Board Member from 2010-2016

Nikhil is the Senior Manager for 747 Production System Efficiencies and Cost Initiatives. His experience spans noise-engineering at Pratt & Whitney; and Product Development Technologies, 787 and KC-46 Programs, 767 and 747 manufacturing operations at Boeing. Nikhil is a third generation engineer. He received his B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from University of Texas at Austin and his M.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Southern California.