In celebration of Women's History Month, the Department of Aerospace Engineering is highlighting some of our talented and diverse faculty and alumni through a series of stories, and Q&As, sharing their journeys and their advice for aspiring aerospace engineers.

Christine Hartzell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland. Her research seeks to understand the fundamental physics of granular systems that will enable key space exploration technologies.

She is a Participating Scientist on the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) mission, and was involved with the OSIRIS-REx mission and the Janus mission. Asteroid 9319 was named “Hartzell” in recognition of her contributions to the field of asteroid science.

Prior joining the faculty at UMD, Hartzell was a Keck Institute for Space Studies Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech. She completed her Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder and received her B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech.

Where/How did you get started on your Aerospace Engineering journey?  

I became really interested in space starting in 4th grade when we did a unit on all of the planets in the solar system. Then in 8th grade, we had to write a 20-page paper, which seemed like an impossibly long paper at the time, so I decided that I had to choose something that I was really interested in. I wrote my paper on the biological effects of spaceflight on humans. Then, when it came time to choose a college major, I decided to pursue aerospace engineering.

What has helped you succeed in your Aerospace Engineering journey?

My family and "chosen family" (close family friends and longtime mentors) has always been super supportive of me. When I was going to grad school for my Ph.D., people would ask my mom what I was studying and she would just tell them "I don't know, but I'm sure it’s wonderful."

Other things that have been helpful: a belief that you can overcome obstacles/setbacks and that you can always find other options if the first path/choice doesn't work out. I think this would be called "grit" or "resilience.” Also, I strongly believe in having hobbies outside of school/work - and I think the time I spend away from work makes me more productive when I'm at work.

What advice would you offer current students?              

Know that you can recover from a bad exam score. Undergrad is the ideal time to figure out what you like and what you don't like, through internships, clubs and research experiences. Being female in a male-dominated field can be tough, but you will find your people. Not everyone will like you, but that's OK! It's important to have hobbies outside of school, but make sure that schoolwork comes first.

What have been some of your greatest personal/professional successes?               

I was super excited when Asteroid 9319 was named after me in 2015. I was also very happy to be selected to be a participating scientist in the OSIRIS-REx (asteroid sample return) mission and the Japanese space Agency's MMX mission (which will place a rover on Mars' moon Phobos).

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March 14, 2024

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Other things that have been helpful: a belief that you can overcome obstacles/setbacks and that you can always find other options if the first path/choice doesn't work out.

Associate Professor Christine Hartzell

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