James Ainsworth, Managing Director of Engineering, Collier Aerospace – HyperX Software

Tarek Abdel-Salam, Associate Dean for Research, Director for the Center for Sustainability and Professor, East Carolina University

Todd Boyette, Ph.D., Director, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and Adjunct Professor, UNC School of Education, UNC-Chapel Hill

Director, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and Adjunct Professor, UNC School of Education, UNC-Chapel Hill

Todd Boyette has served as the director of the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center for the past 16 years. There, Boyette has facilitated the transition from analog to digital fulldome planetarium technology, expanded outreach programming, and launched the North Carolina Science Festival. Boyette is also a member of UNC School of Education’s clinical faculty.

Boyette has extensive experience in scientific leadership. Over the years, he has served as president of the Association of Science Museum Directors, president of the North Carolina Grassroots Science Museums Collaborative, president and CEO of The Health Adventure in Asheville, and director of Wilson’s Imagination Station. 

Boyette holds a Ph.D. in science education from North Carolina State University, a master’s degree in science education, and bachelor’s degrees in science education and chemistry, all from NC State University.

Darshan Divakaran, President, Airavat Solutions

Darshan “Dash” Divakaran is an aerospace intrapreneur and technology evangelist with expertise in uncrewed aviation, aviation development, geospatial analysis, emerging technologies, and program management. His areas of expertise in uncrewed aviation also includes Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS), Uncrewed Traffic Management (UTM) and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). He has led efforts to work with the public and private sector to develop, integrate and manage national programs and initiatives. He has been recognized by Interdrone and Commercial UAV News as one of the top commercial drone visionaries.

Over the years, Divakaran has been an Executive Aviation Consultant and Subject Matter Expert on uncrewed aviation for states like North Carolina and Arizona. He has led UAS flight operations and airborne safety during natural disasters and emergency response for the state with focus on infrastructure inspection and airspace deconfliction. In addition to his many roles, he also led the flight operations safety for North Carolina UAS Integration Pilot Program (FAA) that focused on medical & standard package delivery and infrastructure inspections under NC Department of Transportation. Divakaran is the Founding President of AUVSI North Carolina, a non-profit organization that focuses on education and outreach in unmanned systems. Presently he is also the Senior Manager for Strategic Innovation & Partnerships for AFWERX, the innovation arm of the Department of Air Force.

Divakaran holds a Masters in Geospatial Information Science and Technology from North Carolina State University and BS in Professional Aeronautics and Aviation Management from Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University. He is also an FAA certified commercial pilot with multi engine rating and holds a FAA part 107 remote pilot certificate.

Srinath Ekkad, Department Head for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, NC State University

Srinath Ekkad has served as the department head for mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University since 2017. An avid educator and researcher, Ekkad has published a myriad of research papers on topics including primarily thermal management, energy concepts, propulsion, and advanced diagnostics.  

Previously, Ekkad was a Rolls-Royce Professor for Aerospace Systems at Virginia Tech, associate vice president for research programs and director for the Rolls-Royce University Technology Center for Advanced System Diagnostics. Ekkad has received several awards for his contributions including the VT Alumni Award for Excellence in Graduate Advising (2014), VT Dean of Engineering Award – Research Excellence, (2012), and ASME Bergles-Rohsenow Young Investigator Award in Heat Transfer (2004).

Ekkad holds a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, a master’s in engineering from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University.

Elva Jones, Ph.D, Professor and Chair of the Department of Computer Science, Winston-Salem State University

Elva Jones is a professor and chair of the department of computer science at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU). Jones is credited with developing the university’s first concentration in computer science and leading and developing the major programs in computer science and information technology. The Elva Jones Computer Science Building opened its doors in 2004 to honor Jones’ contributions to the university. 

Jones is a two-time recipient of the NASA JOVE Research Award for her research in Space Science data retrieval. Jones’ background includes a summer faculty research fellowship at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and roles as a SACS evaluator, an ABET evaluator and commissioner.Jones holds a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering and computer studies from North Carolina State University, master’s degrees from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and a bachelor’s degree from Winston-Salem State University

Ece Karatan, Vice Provost for Research, Appalachian State University

John Kiss, Professor and Dean of College of Arts and Sciences, UNC-Greensboro

Katie Lange, North Carolina Fellow, NASA DEVELOP National Program, Science Systems and Applications, Inc. (SSAI)

Katie Lange is a Fellow for the NASA DEVELOP National Program located at the National Centers for Environmental Information. In current role, she provides programmatic, project, and technical support for a variety of interdisciplinary research projects that highlight the applications of Earth observations to enhance environmental and public policy decision making practices. 

She graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a B.S. in Environmental Earth Science and concentration in Land and Water Resources. Through her studies, Katie had the opportunity to conduct field work and analyze data for the County of San Luis Obispo in an oak tree seedling project for highway mitigation. During her free time, she educated middle school and high school students about environmental issues and the Earth Sciences in an outdoor education program. These experiences sparked her interest in synthesizing her scientific investigation methods with her science communication skills which led her to the NASA DEVELOP program.

Since January 2020, Katie has worked on three DEVELOP projects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Through these projects, she has been able to further expand her interests in science outreach and applied Earth Science Research within the field of remote sensing. Katie has had the opportunity to have her team’s work published in the IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing and she has enjoyed studying large-scale climate and weather phenomena through the lens of remote sensing.

Britt Lundgren, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Physics, UNC-Asheville

Britt Lundgren has been a member of the faculty in UNC Asheville’s Department of Physics and Astronomy since 2016. Her research focuses on the stellar populations and star formation histories of distant galaxies, observed directly through deep space-based infrared imaging, and the evolution of the gas and dust content of galaxies and the intergalactic medium throughout cosmic history. In 2020, Lundgren was named a Cottrell Scholar, a prestigious honor from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA).

Prior to joining the UNC-Asheville faculty, Lundgren held an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation. In this role, she worked with various federal science agencies on projects aiming to increase participation, diversity, and outcomes for students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Lundgren has additional past experience working as a postdoctoral research associate at Yale University and later as a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Lundgren holds a B.A. in Physics from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Mark Meno, Executive Director, NAVAIR, Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) East

Mark Meno has served as the executive director at Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) East aboard Marine Corps Air Station since 2020. As the senior civilian for a command workforce of more than 4,000 civilian, military and contractor personnel, he leads a team of senior leaders responsible for a wide array of Navy and Marine Corps aviation sustainment responsibilities. Meno first served at Fleet Readiness Center East as a materials engineer responsible for organic coating removal, corrosion control, and aircraft and hot section engine cleaning technologies deployed in the production environment. He then moved into management, first by serving as the analytical chemistry and composites supervisor. In 2005, he moved into department leadership, first as the Engineering Sciences Department Head followed by the role as air vehicle department head.

In 2015, he was selected to lead  the Research and Engineering Group.  At the same time, he also served as the acting senior civilian until a permanent selection was made in 2016. In 2019, he was named the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Engineering Department Head. Operating with an annual revenue of nearly $1 billion and a production output of more than 80 aircraft, 18,000 components and 80 engines annually, FRC East serves as DOD’s Vertical Lift Center of Excellence by providing sustainment, maintenance and fleet operational support all assigned Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, equipment and support systems.

Matthew Meyer, Associate Vice President for Business Engagement, National & International Partnerships, NC Community College System

Matt Mickens, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer, Elevate Farms, Inc.

As an alumnus of NC A&T State University, Matthew Mickens was awarded the North Carolina Space Grant Fellowship in 2007 which supported his Master’s thesis on using luminescent minerals as a means to detect UV radiation. He was also awarded the NCSG in 2009 but waived the funding to accept the NASA Harriett G. Jenkins Predoctoral Fellowship award which supported the last 3 years of his Ph.D. studies to fabricate luminescent materials for LED lighting systems. The Jenkins fellowship also sponsored an internship opportunity for him at the Kennedy Space Center, which would lead to him being awarded a position in the NASA Postdoctoral Program at KSC. There he studied LED light recipes for growing salad crops in space, produced several groundbreaking publications, and was awarded the 2017 NASA Mentor of the Year for his achievements in mentoring his own NASA interns. Mickens is now Chief Science Officer for Martian Farms, which is an up-and-coming launcher of indoor vertical farms globally.

Kuldeep Rawat, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Technology and Director of Aviation Science Program, Elizabeth City State University

Kuldeep Rawat is the Thorpe Endowed Professor and Dean of School of Science, Aviation, Health and Technology at Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Dr. Rawat holds an MS in Computer Science, MS in Computer Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from the Center for Advanced Computer Studies, University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL). At ULL he conducted research into video compression techniques for applications in aerial surveillance platforms used for monitoring wetlands. He has more than twenty years of combined Industrial and Academic Research and Teaching experience. \Rawat is an International Air Transportation Association (IATA) certified Aviation Management Professional. He has also received professional certifications in Aviation Safety Management and Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Data Analyst from IBM, and Applied Data Science from MIT.

\Rawat provides leadership and manages the School’s administrative operations. The School of Science, Aviation, Health, and Technology (SAHT) is home to four academic departments and fifteen academic programs:  Natural Sciences (Biology BS/MS, Chemistry, and Sustainability Studies); Health and Human Studies (Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kinesiology, Psychology, and Social Work); Mathematics, Computer Science, and Engineering Technology (Mathematics BS/MS, Computer Science, Engineering Technology); and Aviation & Emergency Management (Aviation Science, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, and Emergency Management), which includes over sixty full-time and temporary employees. In addition, the SAHT houses Aviation Science, the institution’s signature program. The SAHT also houses the Center for Excellence in Remote Sensing Research and Education, NC Math/Science Enrichment Network (NC-MSEN), and ECSU’s Khan Planetarium.

Rawat has served as the Principal Investigator/Project Director on multiple grants, including National Institute of Justice (NIJ), US Department of Energy, the US Department of Transportation, NC Division of Aviation, NASA, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Hewlett-Packard Foundation, and the Golden LEAF Foundation. He has secured over $8 Million in external funding to support research, teaching, program development/enhancement, and outreach projects at ECSU.

He also serves as the Director of ECSU’s signature/flagship program in Aviation Science. As the Director of state’s only 4-year collegiate aviation program, he is responsible for strategic planning, conducting aviation program needs assessment, purchasing aircraft, flight simulators and ATC lab equipment, avionics trainers, laboratory upgrades and developing a strategic plan to grow and sustain state’s only four-year aviation education program. Recently, Dr. Rawat led the efforts to establish a BS degree in Unmanned Aircraft Systems program at ECSU. He also led the efforts to secure Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) accreditation for the Aviation Science program and Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology (ABET) accreditation for the Engineering Technology program.

Shawn Sendlinger, Professor of Chemistry and Biology, NC Central University