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MALIA MITCHELL (18) was raised by her father, in a single-parent household with her younger brother and her adult non-verbal autistic uncle. No stranger to challenges early in life, Malia’s shared-responsibilities for her brother and uncle were compounded when her father suffered a stroke as she entered high school. Being the only female in her home, she found herself in caregiving roles, preparing meals, housekeeping, and doing laundry for everyone. She also worked after school since her sophomore year in high school to help ease her family's financial burden. Having been bussed to/from school since elementary, Malia says, “I've always had access to the best public education one could receive...” and “…the work required for me to go to school and succeed has always been great; however, I know it's necessary and worth it to achieve what I want in life.” “I have been blessed to have grown up in a house full of love.”

 

After middle school culmination, Malia was accepted into the UCLA SMASH (Summer Math and Science Honors) program and became “passionate” about public service. She promptly campaigned to become a first-year cohort representative, fully immersing herself in all the program had to offer, and discovered an “enriching experience,” helping others by listening to their needs and exploring solutions to their issues. She cites this as the reason she subsequently campaigned for a position in her school's Associated Student Body during her sophomore year in high school, and says this “solidified how much I love using the skills I learn to improve others' lives or improve their skills by teaching them what I know.” Considering COVID-19 restrictions, Malia said, “Moreover, in the midst of the pandemic, I'm so grateful I can look back and say I took advantage of every opportunity that I could when given the chance.”

 

Malia writes of a “natural affinity towards science” which she attributes to “a love for exploring and a curiosity for all things” since an early age. The summer after sixth grade she attended the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp. She credits that camp with opening her eyes to the world of engineering and awareness of the many STEM career options.  She said, as the camp ended, “I knew that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer after meeting well-known astronaut Bernard Harris,” and thereafter, “I continued to further my knowledge and growth in these concepts by attending additional STEM programs and taking specific high school courses.”  Malia went on to say, “At times, I felt discouraged in mathematical and scientific subjects - especially when I noticed in high school that I would constantly be the only African-American female student in my higher performing academic classes surrounded by peers who often didn't look like me. But I've always managed never to give up, keep pushing through, and keep trying until I arrive at a place where I know I need to be to succeed.” 

 

Malia graduated from Palisades Charter High with a 4.0 GPA, and will be attending Howard University in Washington D.C. where she will major in Mechanical Engineering, with plans for an aerospace industry career.  She states, “I want to specialize in materials science to research possible elements in space that can be used to improve life here on earth. After obtaining a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, I plan to work in the aerospace industry - either for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, SpaceX, or another agency dedicated to furthering the collective understanding of space for all.”

 

Malia’s advanced mathematics mentor (a retired 20-year veteran of aerospace engineering and education) states, “Malia has an innate ability to grasp challenging concepts quickly, build a foundation, and then apply them to successful practices. It is impressive that she has been on the Principal’s Honor Roll during her entire high school experience, which reflects her impeccable work habits.”  Her high school’s Director of College Advising writes, “Malia Mitchell does nothing by half-measures…” “…she is a model of organization and efficiency. She makes the most out of every opportunity and encourages others to do the same with her ‘let's do it’ optimistic personality.” “She is also one of our school's ambassadors (Pali ambassador) which is a very coveted position on our campus that requires an intensive interview process to be selected. In this program students represent our school at various functions both on and off campus. They are the face of the school and to be selected means you are deemed to be a model student of excellent moral character.”  “She holds some of the most responsible leadership positions on our campus and she is fully engaged with the world outside of the confines of her school. Her list of activities is impressive not only in its length, but also in the depth of commitment that she brings to all that she undertakes. When one knows and understands her dedication to her schoolwork and her community it is easy to see why she is respected and held in high esteem by both her peers and faculty.” “Overall, Malia's tenacity, her unfailing optimism, and her willingness to give back is what makes her so unique. The choices she makes and her vision of what is in front of her if she puts in the work sets her apart from students with similar backgrounds on our campus.” Her high school principal writes, “I have worked with many exceptional students; Malia truly stands out among them all…” “...in addition to being an exemplary student, Malia has

distinguished herself from her peers through her dedication to improving her school and community.”  “She brings intellectual curiosity and a problem-solving approach to all that she does. She cares deeply about equality, social justice and creating positive change in her school and society.” “As President of the Black Student Union, Malia has admirably used her leadership roles to help other students. In her words, ‘having the capability to use my knowledge and position as a member of a governing student body to make it so that other students feel more knowledgeable themselves and better accepted in their school is irreplaceable. Leadership allows me to represent my culture and participate in positive events that promote unity.’”

 

REGARDING THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN, Malia writes: “Because of the color of their skin they were viewed as not having the skill set or intelligence to be great pilots…They paved the way by illustrating how great Black pilots perform, and eventually led to the integration of the United States Air Force.” She says, “I had the opportunity to attend flight training at Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum located in the city of Compton. Upon arrival to the museum, I was given time to explore, read, and view memorabilia about the Tuskegee Airmen. I had the thought that this opportunity to learn to fly is afforded to me because of the hard work and uncomfortable experiences that the Tuskegee Airmen had to endure. I am a Black female being trained with a skill that Black men were discouraged from attempting to do.”  “The Tuskegee Airmen worked hard to fly in the skies and change America's views of Black pilots. Their accomplishments have inspired me to become an aerospace engineer. I take pride in continuing to advance their efforts. I strive to work to soar above the skies. I plan for my work in the aerospace industry to be disruptive in a positive way to advance and improve life on earth. I believe there are materials located in spaces that have yet to be discovered that will enhance our quality of life here on earth. If not for the contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen, I wouldn't have the audacity of hope to believe my dreams and aspirations are possible. Because of them, and many other Black innovators, I know that I can and will achieve becoming an aerospace engineer.”

 

Among her many commitments, Malia is a liaison to Dorsey High School Magnet Leadership, and has received multiple awards, including for being the first student to receive the Pacific Palisades Rotary Club Entrepreneurship Award (for hard work, dedication, and maintaining a weekend job), the President's Award for Educational Achievement, and recognition for participation in the inaugural 2020 Coalition of 100 Black Women Mentoring Program.

Additionally, she is a member of notable community-based organizations such as Legacy Ladies Inc., and Building Blue Bridges.  Her other extracurricular and community activities include:

  • Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program (9th-12th grade)

  • Girl Scouts, Troop Leader (9th-11th grade)

  • PCHS Phenomenal Women's Leadership Academy (9th-10th grade)

  • Legacy Ladies Inc. Mentor Program (11th-12th grade)

  • Pan African Film Festival (9th-11th)

  • Piloting classes (11th grade)