Senior Spotlight: Alena Zeni

Alena Zeni is one of the many seniors worldwide whose last year of high school is looking quite different from what they expected. Prom has been canceled; Providence’s iconic “senior presentations” were carried out online; graduation will be a bit creative this year to say the least.

Alena Zeni, Class of 2020
Yet, while noting sadness over missed end-of-high-school memories with friends, Alena’s primary sentiment is excitement for the future—and her future is certainly bright! Alena was chosen to be an intern for NASA this summer, helping the Coast Guard design and build short-range search and rescue drones. This fall, Alena will begin her studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, where she plans to double-major in Astronautical Engineering and Global Security & Intelligence. She hopes to eventually work for a company like NASA or as an intelligence analyst.
Alena (left) helps catch a wayward drone! (It was her
idea to use a sheet to catch it and thereby prevent crash damage.)
A student in the Providence Engineering Academy all four years of high school, it was actually an elective in junior high that cultivated Alena’s love of the subject. She admits, “If not for junior high engineering, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today!” Among her favorite memories of the high school Academy include building a Tensegrity ball (a structure made of beams and ropes in which no beams directly touch one another, but are held together by the tension in the ropes) and a hexacopter drone, affectionately named “Thiccarus” due to its broad dimensions. Alena spoke fondly of the drone, admitting that her class worked so long on the project that they personified the drone as their class “child.”
Madison, Alena, Todd, and Ben:
senior members of the Providence
Engineering Academy
A field trip to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena earlier this fall is where Alena definitively found her calling. Inspired by the work of JPL, Alena decided to forgo a mechanical engineering degree and pursue astronautical engineering instead.

Alena (upper right group) poses with her class at JPL
Alena’s senior project—a capstone experience required of all graduates of Providence that involves a research paper, professional presentation, and defense of a meaningful topic—is titled “Guy-ence and Men-gineering: Pushing Back Against Cultural Barriers for Women in STEM.” Alena gives credit to a “Women in STEM day” hosted at UCSB during her 9th grade year for raising her awareness of the gender gap in the STEM disciplines. Her interest in researching the reasons behind the divide developed throughout high school and became an obvious choice for her senior project.

Among many contributing factors for the gender gap in STEM fields, Alena cites gender-based micro-aggressions, stereotype threat, explicit and implicit gender-science biases, and the competitive, aggressive atmosphere where performance expectations are not conducive to work-life balance. To combat these challenges for women in STEM fields, Alena encourages companies to consider blind resumes in early hiring procedures, expand skills required to include stereotypical female strengths such as collaboration and teamwork, and actively ensure qualified women get deserved promotions based on merit. Alena brings her Christian worldview to her research, articulating man and woman’s equal ability to image their Creator. As image-bearers, men and women are both called to create solutions for problems that arise in the world.

Alena’s and Madison’s final project for the year

Alena’s design for her aircraft fuselage successfully printed!

As Alena wraps up her senior year, her final project for the Engineering Academy involves designing a powered model aircraft with classmate and good friend Madison Malone. The duo are assembling their aircraft and planning on flight tests toward the end of May. Alena’s love for engineering is undeniably evident as she speaks with excitement to see her creation fly, citing many late nights and Zoom calls to navigate the design process in an unprecedented classroom setting.

Her final advice to younger students interested in studying engineering, math, or science? “Don’t give up on the math. It can get really, really hard… but once you have that moment where it all clicks and falls into place, it is so worth it.”

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