UCF’s Perla Latorre-Suarez ’21 has been named a member of the 20 Twenties Award Class of 2022. The award recognizes students pursuing aerospace degrees for their academic excellence, STEM and leadership skills and innovative approach to problem solving.

UCF’s Perla Latorre-Suarez Named Among Best Aerospace Graduate Students in the World

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

UCF’s Perla Latorre-Suarez ’21 is among the most promising graduate students in the world who are likely to change the aerospace industry, according to Aviation Week Network.

The magazine and its partners — Accenture and Hexcel — this month announced their 20 Twenties Award Class of 2022. More than 80 students were nominated from around the world. The 20 winners were selected based on their academic excellence, STEM and leadership skills, and innovative approach to problem-solving.

The winners will get access to a network of technology hiring managers, some of the nation’s best faculty and industry experts who will help them begin to build a network of not only potential employers but some of the greatest minds working to solve critical problems facing the aviation and space industries.

Latorre-Suarez — who is pursuing a master’s in aerospace engineering at UCF — is one of only two Florida recipients who share the honor with students from Duke, MIT, and Purdue, among others.

“This is the first award I have won as a student,” says Latorre-Suarez, who earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from UCF. “It will give me the opportunity to expand my academic and professional connections by networking with other professionals around the country. I will also be able to learn about the opportunities available in multiple industries and universities. I believe this will bring more ideas to solve the current technology challenges.”

Latorre-Suarez is part of Engineering Professor Seetha Raghavan’s research lab, where she is investigating 3D-printed sensors that could be made in space and which would monitor the structural integrity of the components and vehicles used by explorers on other planets.

She is also part of UCF’s MSTAR program, which led to an internship opportunity to work at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia this past summer. Working with NASA scientists she helped design ceramic coatings that can protect lunar vehicles from the moon’s dust.

The Puerto Rico native says UCF and its faculty have been critical to her academic journey.

“My advisor, Dr. Raghavan, has played an important role in my academic, professional and personal life,” she says. “She nominated me as a recipient of this award, and for me, it was more than that; it has been an honor to be mentored by her.”

Latorre-Suarez is researching the 3D printed sensors that could be made in space and which would monitor the structural integrity of the components and vehicles used by explorers on other planets.

“My biggest goal is to be able to collaborate on space missions, such as the Artemis moon mission,” she says. “I want to ensure astronauts’ safety while exploring other planetary surfaces.”

This is not Latorre-Suarez’s first recognition. In 2021 she was named an X-Force Fellow by the National Security Innovation Network and the Department of Defense. She is also a NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium Fellow.

“Congratulations to the winners — all of whom possess the leadership and STEM skills needed to bring innovation to our industry,” said John Schmidt, global Aerospace and Defense industry lead at Accenture in a news release. “Accenture is committed to developing the next generation of the aerospace and defense workforce by supporting programs like this that help recognizes top talent.”

In addition to getting plugged into the talent network, Latorre-Suarez will also be honored at a luncheon at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., and then again during Aviation Week Network’s 65th Annual Laureate Awards and Dinner at the National Building Museum. These presentations are scheduled for November. The 20 Twenties program is a significant part of Aviation Week Network’s workforce initiative that continues to cultivate, inform, and inspire the next generation of aerospace and defense professionals, according to the organization.

Latorre-Suarez is one of many recent graduates from Raghavan’s laboratory who have received national or international recognition for their work.

“Perla has emerged as a leader and an expert in her area,” Raghavan says. “While research is challenging for any student and more so under current circumstances, (such as the pandemic), her persistence has always helped her to manage her time and academics to continue to make research progress.”

Latorre-Suarez is also paying it forward. She has led multiple outreach activities at UCF representing Raghavan’s lab. She’s led components for Camp Connect and UCF’s STEM Day. Both events provide students from K-12 with hands-on learning opportunities focused on different research topics conducted by the group. Latorre-Suarez also participated in the Skype-a-Scientist program, where she shared her research expertise with elementary school students in Malaysia.

“She has demonstrated outstanding leadership and project management skills, as well as the constant aspiration to learn and become better at what she does,” Raghavan says. “As a mentor, she is setting up a path for many other students to succeed along the way.”

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