Jet taking off with contrails behind it seen through a window.

Propelling Discovery

Duva Fellowship research drives efficiency and safety improvements

In 2012, Charles and Elizabeth Duva established Embry-Riddle’s first aerospace engineering fellowship to support doctoral students. The award goes to at least one aerospace engineering graduate student each year. The generosity of the Duvas reflects a continuing commitment to education and a belief that talented researchers bring immediate and long-term benefits to the community and the industry. Thanks to the stipend that is part of this award, three Duva fellows can focus on research that promises to bring advances to aerospace design, aviation training, and performance and safety.

Elias Wilson Masters Algorithms that Add Up to Safer Skies

Elias Wilson (’18, ’19, ’22) is an Eagle Scout from Oregon with a passion for design and a commitment to volunteerism that encompasses tutoring and fundraising. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering, and thanks in part to the Duva Fellowship, he is now Elias Wilson, Ph.D.

His graduate research focused on model-based predictive control algorithms, which provide intelligent control decisions when compared to typical feedback algorithms. His dissertation examined the challenge for helicopters to maneuver and land during a total power failure. This research informed the development of a model predictive controller to maneuver autonomously and land a tilt rotor, tested with a high-fidelity model of a tilt rotor vehicle.

“The Duva Fellowship enabled me to focus heavily on novel work, which led me to earn the SMART Scholarship and will continue to shape my career.”

— Elias Wilson

Wilson credits the Duva Fellowship with setting him on a path toward a string of successes in his research career, including winning a prestigious scholarship from the Department of Defense’s Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship-forService program. The program’s mission is to support the development of innovative scientists, engineers and researchers as part of a competitive workforce that can harness the dynamic trends in technology to protect national security.

“The Duva Fellowship enabled me to focus heavily on novel work, which led me to earn the SMART Scholarship and will continue to shape my career,” he says.

Kaela Barrett Has a Passion for Fast-Acting Innovation

Growing up in the southern Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, spotting a jet flying over her tiny island was rare, but Kaela Barrett (’20) was intrigued. “I was a curious kid, always asking, ‘Why?’ Before too long, I knew I wanted to be an engineer,” she says.

Chasing down some of those “whys” brought her to the United States and Embry-Riddle. As an undergraduate pursuing her Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering, Barrett worked with the Society of Women Engineers to tutor elementary school students and Girl Scouts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) exploration.

“I was a curious kid, always asking, ‘Why?’ Before too long, I knew I wanted to be an engineer.”

— Kaela Barrett

Barrett plans to complete her doctorate in 2025 with a focus on computational structural mechanics and design optimization. Her current research involves the design and additive manufacturing of new materials that could help aerospace manufacturers create low-cost but highly reliable structures. These unique materials could increase the performance of scanning technologies and stealth fighters.

The Duva Fellowship was additional fuel for her dreams. It allowed her to move on from a university job as teaching assistant in Aerospace Structures.

“Without the fellowship, I would not have been able to afford to continue my studies. The freedom to focus on my research is a huge advantage. My passion is in helping make people’s lives better as soon as possible.”

Frederick Schill Explores the Human-Machine Connection

Frederick Schill (’20) did not grow up in an aviation family, but when a classmate’s father in the Air National Guard landed a Blackhawk helicopter at their school, he was one of the first to climb in. “What set me on an engineering course is a high school teacher who involved me in the Technology Student Association Flight Endurance competition. I learned a lot of basics building small, balsa wood airplanes,” he remembers.

In 2020, Schill completed his Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering with a concentration in Computational Mathematics. Thanks to support from the Drs. Charles and Elizabeth Duva Endowed Fellowship, he’s completing his master’s in Aerospace Engineering where he is investigating machine-learning techniques to advance aviation safety.

“There is a lot of potential in figuring out [human]-machine interaction to improve pilot performance.”

— Frederick Schill

His work could help pilots and other operators solve complicated tasks with less prior knowledge because they will be able to interpret more abstract data rapidly, aiding in accident prevention.

After he earns his doctorate, he hopes to work at Northrop Grumman’s Dynamics Control Group.

Longer term, he would like to return to Embry-Riddle to teach. “I’m fascinated by what I’m learning about optimal control and adaptive control for manned aircraft. There is a lot of potential in figuring out [human]-machine interaction to improve pilot performance metrics and improve simulation tools for student pilots that don’t compromise the quality of their training,” he says.