Q&A: Payton Barnwell reaches for the stars, literally

Payton Barnwell’s ’19 true fascination with space led her to stellar opportunities in the aerospace industry while at Florida Poly. The mechanical engineering major from Tampa, Florida, was awarded the prestigious Brooke Owens Fellowship in 2018, which enabled her to intern at Generation Orbit Launch Services in Atlanta, Georgia. She also earned a NASA internship, researching how to grow food in space. Now, as she sets to launch her next chapter, Payton has a clear mission: to make strides for women in space exploration.


What’s the last book you read?

The last book I read was “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth. After obsessing over Dr. Duckworth’s TED Talk, I knew I had to read the book. The studies outlined in Grit are great examples of how drive and commitment can take you farther than you could’ve imagined – 10/10 would suggest to anyone! Currently, I am reading “Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science” written by Peter Godfrey-Smith. I love books that make you think.


 What leader do you admire the most in the high-tech world and why?

Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX. She’s killing it! Being able to manage day-to-day operations for a company as dynamic as SpaceX can’t be easy, but she does it all while showing genuine appreciation for the thousands of employees she oversees. After the incredibly successful launch last month, Gwynne personally thanked each person in the control room. She’s a prime example of leadership and I really admire all that she does.


What was your favorite class at Florida Poly? 

Exploration of the Humanities, taught by Dr. Wylie Lenz, was a class that I was lucky enough to take in fall 2018 and it was easily the most unique. Being able to take a closer look at how different technologies can affect society has taught me how to better analyze my own projects and designs. This class isn’t mandatory for all students, but I’d highly suggest registering if you get the chance.  


Who was your Florida Poly mentor and why?

Dr. Christina Drake has been a personal role model since my first semester on campus. As a highly accomplished researcher, Dr. Drake still finds time to connect with her students and work to make Florida Poly a better place. I was lucky enough to have Dr. Drake as my advisor for mechanical engineering and her guidance has helped me become more confident in my skills and abilities. While she has been an active mentor for female students on campus through her work with the Society of Women Engineers, all members of the Florida Poly family could learn a ton from her.


If you could eat lunch with one famous person, who would it be? 

I’d love to have lunch with Dawn Brooke Owens. While those outside of the aerospace industry may not be familiar with her work, her presence had an incredible impact on those that knew her. The Brooke Owens Fellowship is named in her honor and, as a 2018 “Brookie”, I didn’t get the chance to know her personally before she passed, but I’m confident I would’ve gain so much from being able to speak with her. Although one lunch wouldn’t be enough time to learn how to become even as half as caring, intelligent, and charismatic as Brooke was, it’d be the lunch of a lifetime.


Editor’s Note: This story is one of a series of Q&As with some of Florida Poly’s class of 2019 graduates.

Lydia Guzman
Assistant Director of Communications

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