Michele Brekke: Breaking Through the Aerospace Industry

Michele Brekke was welcomed back to the University of Minnesota (UMN) this past weekend as the 2019 Homecoming Grand Marshal. Brekke, a former NASA flight director and aerospace engineering and mechanics (AEM) alumna, held a meet and greet in the Balas Atrium on Oct. 4, where she answered questions and spoke about her experiences in the aerospace industry. 

Brekke received her Bachelors of Science in 1975, and her Masters of Science in 1977 from the UMN AEM department. During her time at UMN, she worked closely with Professor Helmut Heinrich, starting as his secretary and eventually working her way up to a research assistant in the wind tunnel lab testing parachutes. In her free time, Brekke played on the University’s volleyball team and competed in two national championship tournaments during her collegiate career. 

After graduation, Brekke began her career in NASA’s Mission Control Center in 1977. Brekke would go on to become the first woman flight director at NASA, and hold various roles throughout the agency for 37 years before retiring. Brekke’s journey is especially remarkable because she fearlessly tackled an industry that at her time, not many women dared to do.

Brekke says: “All it takes is all you got. Because when you go into this field, it is not a cakewalk. People aren’t going to just give you opportunities, you have to work really hard. But if you want something badly enough, you will find a way.” 

Currently, Brekke works as a flight manager for Boeing’s Starliner, which is a part of NASA's Commercial Crew Development program.

“I get to write a page in the history books every day I go to work. I just love that I get to be a part of the next new thing.”

Brekke has certainly made a lifelong impact on Earth, space and beyond through her work at NASA and Boeing, and she has inspired countless individuals to pursue their passions in the aerospace industry.

The advice she leaves students is simple, yet heartening, “Trust your gut- because it never lies.”