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Small-town Wyoming Sisters Use UW Education to Reach Higher

August 24, 2016
Julie Read poses for a photo in a NASA facility.

Growing up on a wheat farm in rural Wyoming, the Sandberg sisters often looked to the big night sky and thought of the possibilities.

Now, they don’t have to wonder what’s up there, because the graduates of the University of Wyoming have careers and opportunities that allow them to see it. Julie (Sandberg) Read and Lori Sandberg are examples of what’s possible if you dream big, and use UW’s resources to help you get there. They both received degrees through the UW College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS).

Julie (Sandberg) Read

Read grew up in Albin about 30 miles east of Cheyenne on the Wyoming-Nebraska border. The town had about 187 people, and she was part of the last graduating class for the town’s high school.

She now calls Houston home and is enrolled at Texas A&M University in pursuit of a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. She remembers her time at UW as a valuable experience in terms of personal growth and education.

“The professors are so personable and cared about our learning,” Read says. “UW is focused on teaching students. You need to learn the basics of your field. It was a nice setting to know that your professors always had time for you, which is not necessarily true at a bigger university. That gave me a strong background.”

She also had the opportunity to participate in programs such as the national engineering society Tau Beta Pi (TBP), the UW Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and had multiple internships. She credits TBP for helping both she and her sister improve communication and leadership skills.

“Those experiences helped me get my first job, get into graduate school, and I hope will look strong on my resume to get my next job. It was really easy coming from UW to participate in those opportunities,” Read adds.

Read led the way for her sister, enrolling at UW after participating in the Engineering Summer Program (ESP). Her parents both attended UW, but Read had no idea what she wanted to study.

“I didn’t know what an engineer was until I found out from ESP,” she says. “I felt comfortable with the campus. Moving from a town of 180 people to what seemed to me like a big town, it was a little intimidating,” she says. “UW has a good engineering program, which is what I was interested in.”

She ended up with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering in 2007. She earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M, and after her master’s, she worked for more than two years for aerospace contracting company, Odyssey Space Research. But, her quest wasn’t over, so she enrolled for her Ph.D. and hopes to have that by Christmas 2016. She commutes to College Station for classes.

Along with her school work, she has an internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. She hopes to integrate her research in the organization’s software. If astronauts are headed to space and need to abort the mission, software tools can help figure out the best path home, especially if they lose radio contact. Once she graduates, she hopes to work for NASA, a return to her roots from her time at UW and the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium.

“I’ve wanted to work for NASA my entire life,” Read says. “They funded three internships for me. Those really helped get my career going, and it’s how I got my first job.”

Read always had her younger sister in mind when she pursued difficult areas of study.

“We grew up on a farm outside of town, so we spent a lot of the time together,” she says. “It was nice because we are close and because I’m older, I always felt she looked up to me. I tried to do a good job at school, not just for me. I thought if I can do something, she’ll think she can do it too and be successful.”

Lori Sandberg poses for a photo at Boeing.

Lori Sandberg

Despite being three years younger, Sandberg has made a name for herself.

After Albin shuttered its high school, she finished at Southeast High School in Yoder, Wyo. From there, she attended and graduated from UW with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2010, and earned a master’s from Texas A&M in 2013. She took a job with aerospace and aircraft giant Boeing in Seattle to begin her career and relocated to Texas about a year ago.

“I worked up in Seattle for two years on a new aircraft and my job focused on weight and mass properties to make sure the airplane would be efficient and meet guarantees for customers,” Sandberg says. “After I transferred to Houston, I began work on the CST-100 Starliner, a commercial crew transportation spacecraft. It’s a great project and I’ve been learning a lot.”

Her journey into engineering also began at ESP and continued at UW. She had an internship with Boeing after her senior year of college, which in turn helped her land her current post.

“I can’t say enough about UW and how much it helped me get to where I am today,” she says. “I had excellent professors at Wyoming. They pushed me but they cared about the students and wanted us to learn and to succeed. Without all that background and education, I couldn’t have accomplished this.”

Sandberg watched her older sister as she grew up and wanted to emulate her in just about everything. She went to UW, joined the same sorority and ended up in the same career field.

“I don’t know if I would’ve considered engineering as a career if I didn’t see Julie go through it,” she says. “I wouldn’t have understood what an engineer does. It was really cool to see all the stuff she was able to do. That was an eye opener for me.”

Sandberg says that during her time at UW, her sister was always encouraging her because “it’s not always easy to get through.”

“But, she went through it, so having her there was nice,” Sandberg adds. “Anytime I got a good grade on a test, I knew that if I told her about it, she’d understand how much work went into it.”

CEAS Associate Dean Steve Barrett watched as both sisters excelled at UW and noted the pride felt by their parents and staff and faculty of the CEAS. He knew early on that they’d find their calling.

“Julie and Lori represent what makes Wyoming so great. They are two talented young women who set their sights high and pursued every opportunity offered by UW,” Barrett says. “It started with the Engineering Summer Program before they graduated from high school, continued with undergraduate engineering degrees and multiple research opportunities through EPSCoR and internships. Both of them were destined for the space industry. It’s something they talked about while still in high school.”

Where they are now

Sandberg is not immune from taking time to see how far she has come in recent years.

“I did not expect to be where my sister and I are today,” she says. “When you’re little, you see NASA and airplanes and you’re like, ‘Wow, I can’t imagine being someone who actually gets to do that.’ Every day when I go to work, I can’t believe it. It’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t have imagined that when I was growing up on a wheat farm in the middle of nowhere.”

Coming from a small town in Wyoming didn’t hold the sisters back. To the contrary, it served as a reminder of staying true to your roots but never settling for less than what you want.

“It was always in the back of my mind,” Read says. “Coming from a small town where most people work on ranches and farms, it was nice to show people you can dream and do whatever you want. It’s amazing how such a small place can have people end up on the same path.”

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