Walter said her "when-I-grow-up" dreams included space shuttles and walking on the moon. Although she didn't grow up to be an astronaut, Walter is one of three CU graduate students in the aerospace engineering department to receive fellowships from NASA.
Walter, 26, along with fellow CU graduate student Holly Borowski, 29, received two of five national Aeronautics Scholarships from the government agency, which will fund the students' next few years of research, foot their tuition bill as well as offer a living expenses stipend.
CU graduate student Lauren Blum also recieved a grant -- NASA's Earth and Space Sciences Fellowship -- to help fund her research.
Ryan Starkey, an assistant professor in CU's aerospace department and Walter's adviser, said having three NASA fellows this year, shows the department's prestige and boosts recognition for the program nationwide.
"They only gave five of the aeronautics fellowships across the country and we have two of them," Starkey said. "It talks a lot about our credibility and will help us attract new students.
The College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, like many similar schools across the country, has a low percentage of women in the departments, Starkey said, so having three female students recognized for their exceptional research adds another element of diversity to the school.
The women said they will focus on outreach to local kids to help encourage students to consider engineering degrees as a future career path. Starkey said having such strong role models as themselves will hopefully boost the confidence of younger female students, showing them that women can be just as successful in the field as men.
Starkey said the department deserves some credit for helping the students get to this point, but the hard work of the students should not be ignored. Both students are currently leading research projects involving unmanned aircrafts.
Walter lights up when she talks about the SR-71 aircraft, an unmanned vehicle built in the 1960s.
"It's one of the fastest birds we've ever made, but we haven't been able to do it since then," Walter said. "Basically, they did a really good job of destroying the information so now I'm trying to recreate the turbine-based combined cycle engine."
After six years in the Air Force, Borowski experimented with several research projects before landing on unmanned crafts. Her current research looks at how to compensate for the uncertainty involved with the unmanned aircrafts. She said she has recently been looking into the use of multiple aircrafts working together to achieve a common goal.
NASA may not be sending space shuttles into space these days but there are still plenty of satellites and other assets for Blum to focus her research in space physics.
"I'm looking at space weather," Blum said. "It can be similar to terrestrial weather but I'm looking at how it affects our satellites so we can better protect our assets."
The students will continue their research on the Boulder campus until next year when Walter and Borowski will spend their summer interning at NASA centers.