From the Field to the Launchpad

by | Oct 23, 2023 | Student Stories, Technology

Field hockey and aerospace engineering wouldn’t seem to go hand in hand, but Shannon “Shack” Lackey has managed her love for both interests seamlessly. While she finishes up her master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, she’s also playing field hockey on UC Davis’ Division I team.

“Field hockey has helped me discover UC Davis, which in turn helped me realize that I really like aerospace engineering,” said Lackey. “I’m very grateful for all of the people who have helped me athletically and academically.”

Lackey grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, where field hockey is popular. She started playing at 8 years old.

At the same time, she nurtured her interest in STEM. She took various classes in high school that bolstered her interest in engineering and went on to study chemical engineering and biotechnology at Northwestern University. There, she also played field hockey at the Division I level. 

Book cover for Aloha Vietnam

Shannon Lackey is a midfielder on the UC Davis field hockey team. (Courtesy photo)

“They only help each other,” said Lackey referring to field hockey and engineering. “The lessons I’ve learned in athletics have helped me through the struggles of engineering. I don’t think I’d ever want to do one without the other.”

Much of Lackey’s research at UC Davis revolves around keeping humans alive in hazardous space environments.

“I’m super interested in not just sending hardware to space but sending people to space and keeping them alive up there,” said Lackey. “I just think it’s the coolest problem ever.”

Lackey completed a post-graduate associate engineering internship with SpaceX this past summer and worked with Dragon, SpaceX’s spacecraft that carries humans and cargo to and from the International Space Station. She said the experience definitely challenged her, but that it was ultimately rewarding to apply all of her academic interests to real-life scenarios. She received a return offer at the end of her internship and will be back on the Dragon team full-time upon graduation. 

“Sometimes the magnitude of the work gets lost in the glamor of the rockets, but it’s not always glamorous,” said Lackey. “There’s a lot of trial and error, and that’s the same in both athletics and engineering.”

After graduation, Lackey said that she wants to continue playing field hockey recreationally.

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing field hockey, even if it’s just pick-up hockey with people in my area,” Lackey explained. “As for aerospace, it’s hard to predict where I’ll be in the future, but hopefully I’m still chasing that dream.”