Westerville South Alum McKenna Davis Receives Top Engineering Fellowship

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McKenna Davis credits educators in the Westerville City School District for inspiring her to pursue a career in science. 




UCLA aerospace engineering graduate student McKenna Davis has received a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, considered one of the country’s most prestigious honors for graduate students at the outset of their studies. The fellowship program is sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Army Research Office, and the Office of Naval Research, under the direction of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering.

Fellows receive three years of tuition and fees, a $3,200 monthly stipend, and a $5,000 travel allowance.  Davis was one of 166 graduate students across the country to receive the fellowship in 2019.

Davis researches electrospray thrusters – a form of electric spacecraft propulsion used for very small, precise movements which features many charged fluid jets organized in a gridded array. Specifically, she develops models of the droplet dynamics inside electrospray thrusters with the goal of improving their performance and durability.

Davis received bachelor’s degrees in physics and mathematics from Rhodes College, in Memphis, Tennessee.  She moved to Westerville in 2007 from Mesa, Arizona.  She attended Genoa Middle School, where she credits then-principal Suzanne Kile for getting her into the right classes, including some at Westerville Central High School.  There, she was welcomed warmly, she says, by Principal Todd Spinner and taught by educators who inspired her, like Honors Algebra 2 teacher Jerry McSwords.  With the guidance of Dr. Machelle Kline, Davis headed to Westerville South for high school and the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which she started as a sophomore and finished after her junior year.  Davis says IB Physics teacher Bill Heinmiller is the reason she decided to pursue physics, and she credits Sandra Priwer with honing her writing skills.  Davis took classes at Ohio State and Otterbein during her senior year under the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program. 

While at South, Davis played varsity lacrosse for four years, soccer for two years, varsity tennis for two years, and was involved in theater and music.  She was class valedictorian and a Columbus Dispatch Scholar Athlete.  Her parents are Malcolm and Laurie Davis.