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What makes a 20 Twenty?

Aviation Week Network honors 20 students in their Twenties each year currently enrolled in a bachelor’s or master’s degree program in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM). The 20 Twenties program was established by Aviation Week Network in 2013 to recognize talented individuals who are on course to change the face of the aerospace and defense industry. Criteria is based on academic performance, public/community involvement and how they communicate the value of your individual research/design project.

Click HERE to learn the qualities that make a 20 Twenty

Nominations will open February 1, 2022

Be Recognized

The 20 students chosen for the 2021 awards were selected and announced in July 2021. They were honored at the 20 Twenties Luncheon and at Aviation Week Network’s annual Laureate Awards and Banquet in conjunction with the DefenceChain Conference on October 18, 2021 in Tysons Corner, Virginia. In addition, all winners have been highlighted in Aviation Week & Space Technology, and will receive a free digital subscription to the magazine.

photos:  Nathan Mitchell Photography

The Top 20

Universities around the world nominate their top students who are working to solve challenges within the industry.

Now in its 8th year, the prestigious awards program received a total of 553 nominations from exceptional students worldwide earning university STEM degrees and awarded 160 of them as 20 Twenties winners.

A total of 136 different colleges and universities around the world have participated in the program since 2013 by nominating students on the basis of their academic performance, broader civic contribution, and the value of their research or design project.

Most importantly, the program brings together technology hiring managers, students, and faculty worldwide to recognize what’s needed for business and academic growth and success. The students begin building a network comprised of the technical experts who have built the industry, the universities gain visibility for high-quality education provided to the students, and hiring managers gain knowledge about the best of the best in the next generation of aerospace talent.

The 2021 nomination program brought in a total of 61 total qualified nominations from 26 different universities representing five countries. Five new nominator schools participated in the program this year. 

The schools representing the 2020s class of 2021 include:

A focus on women in aerospace

In an industry still heavily dominated by men, the 2021 nomination pool was roughly an equal split with half of the nominees identifying as male (31), and half identifying as female (29).

According to Aviation Week Network’s editor Lindsay Bjerregaard, “Many of this year’s winners expressed passion for closing the gender gap in STEM and making education more accessible. Some have spent countless hours on outreach efforts to draw more women to aviation and aerospace. Others have focused on increasing racial and economic diversity within STEM, both through involvement in campus organizations and work in their communities.”

Nominations will open February 1, 2022

20 Twenties Class of 2021

  • Rachel Cueva
    Rachel Cueva University of Maryland

    B.S. Aerospace Engineering | Class of 2021 | University of Maryland

    Cueva’s undergraduate research was on improving future spacecraft and habitats. Her Gemstone Honors College research on robotic capabilities for operation and maintenance of space habitats won “Best in Theme” at NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkages (RASC-AL) competition and was accepted to the 2019 NASA eXploration Systems and Habitation Challenge, receiving funding and the opportunity to collaborate with NASA engineers to tailor research toward the NASA Lunar Gateway. In independent research, Cueva is studying electrostatic dust lofting on asteroids and the plasma environment in craters.

    Cueva interned at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. She has mentored students in four programs at the University of Maryland and was chair of the university’s student branch of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Cueva also won the AIAA 2020 Wernher von Braun scholarship.

  • Ryan Strelau
    Ryan Strelau Purdue University

    Graduate Student, Aerospace Engineering | Class of 2022 | Purdue University | B.S. Aerospace Engineering | Class of 2020 | Purdue University

    Strelau is applying his passion for extending humanity’s reach in space to development of advanced propulsion systems. He is researching laser-based ignition of rocket engines in space environments to develop better industry understanding of complex physics in vacuum conditions. His research has potential applications in both space travel and defense platforms, such as missiles, ramjets and scramjets.

    As a member of Purdue’s chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), he was technical lead for the Liquid Rocket Project, which created the first student-built, fully cryogenic, liquid oxygen-liquid methane rocket engine. He is involved in STEM initiatives to teach K-12 students about space and has tutored students whose primary language is not English at Purdue’s Writing Lab. Strelau has also interned at Aerojet Rocketdyne.

  • Michaela Adams
    Michaela Adams Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

    B.S. Cyber Intelligence and Security | Class of 2021 | Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

    As part of Adams’ undergraduate research, she served as project manager for Embry-Riddle’s Secure UAS project, which developed ways to prevent transmission of data from spoofed or malicious unmanned aircraft systems. She was president of the university’s Cyber Defense Club and completed cybersecurity and intelligence internships at the Center for International Cyber Intelligence, Disneyland and Garmin International.

    In her efforts to close the gender gap in STEM and introduce youth to cybersecurity, Adams was president of Embry-Riddle’s Women in Cybersecurity chapter and a member of her campus’ Women Ambassadors program. She was co-project manager of Embry-Riddle’s first CyberAero competition for local high school students, and she assisted a local Girl Scout troop in obtaining their cybersecurity badges by teaching them at the university’s cyberlab.

Hear from our Class of 2021 Winners.

  • "In both the Luncheon and Dinner, I built numerous professional relationships that I hope to sustain and grow over the rest of my career. Celebrating exceptional technological leaps and incredible individual contributions across all industry sectors was an amazing experience. I was honored and delighted to take part in the 20 Twenties events, and am very grateful for the support of Aviation Week and event sponsors."

    Zachary Marshall
    Zachary Marshall
  • "Overall, I really enjoyed the experience of being a 20 Twenty! I can confidently say that the networking opportunities allowed me to build connections that have helped me immensely as I start my career. For that I would like to say thank you. Also, I found the experience to be highly motivating too. It was incredible to see the amazing projects my fellow 20 Twenties are working on and the projects occurring within industry. Thank you again for the opportunity to be part of this amazing program."

    Logan Hill
    Logan Hill
  • “It was a rare opportunity to be surrounded by so many game changers in the industry who are contributing to developments in aerospace I had only previously read about and aspired to do someday. Interacting with them and hearing their stories has only reaffirmed my love for aerospace and my drive to carry on their work in the future.​"

    Shreyasvi Gowda
    Shreyasvi Gowda
  • "The 20 Twenties award will hold immense value in my young career as an engineer. It encouraged me to continue pursuing my dreams and demonstrated that I was truly making an impact on others. The award also helped me connect with future aerospace leaders and current aerospace leaders to not only advance my own development, but also create partnerships and friendships. The 20 Twenties Award Luncheon and Dinner by Aviation Week Network was an incredible experience that I will cherish at the beginning of my budding career!​"

    Ryan Udell
    Ryan Udell
  • "The 20 Twenties Luncheon and Laureates Awards Dinner was a very worthwhile experience that gave me the opportunity to meet and network with not only current aerospace industry leaders, but also with other 20 Twenties award winners."

    Emily Williams
    Emily Williams

Nominations will open February 1, 2022


Premier Sponsor:

The 20 Twenties program reflects the best within the next generation of talent entering the aerospace and defense industries. As a global leader in advanced composites technology, Hexcel applauds these awardees for their outstanding academic accomplishments, and we are inspired by their passion. We look forward to working with them as together, we usher in a new era of cutting-edge advancements in aeronautics. I thank Aviation Week for the opportunity for us to meet these honorees and to participate in encouraging them as they reach for new heights.

Colleen Pritchard, Hexcel

Premier Sponsor:


As a sponsor and attendee for the 20 Twenties program, it was an excellent engagement with some of the brightest minds in aerospace and defense.  Even more than the energy and vision they provide for our industry, the inspiring message and enthusiasm they bring to our talent pipeline is much needed as we compete with others sectors. Looking forward to the next cohort in 2022.

Scott Drach, Boeing



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