These stories are a part of a continuing series that features women leaders at USF during Women’s History Month.
A rocket can travel around 20 times faster than the speed of sound — almost as quick as third-year physics major Madison Kozee works around the clock.
Kozee is Chief of Operations (COO) of USF’s Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry (SOAR) and currently the only woman on SOAR’s executive board.
As the COO of SOAR, Kozee relays all of the organization’s operations to the rest of the executive board and acts as a liaison between communities SOAR plans to do outreach with. When she is not working at SOAR, Kozee is leading the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) team.
She is currently working on three rocketry projects with SOAR and has received her Level 1 Rocketry certification in February.
Kozee’s passion for learning started with her father. He returned to school when she was a child, balancing both work and attending college.
“When my dad went back to school, he was around 40, which was a big deal,” said Kozee. “My mom was working days and my dad was working nights and going to school at night.”
Originally from Jacksonville, Kozee (Koh-zee) developed her hard-working spirit at a young age through her time as a girl scout, and hasn’t severed ties with the organization yet.
She’s made sure to give back to the Girl Scouts of America by holding conferences with SOAR where girl scouts can earn their mechanical engineering badge.
“Over 100 girls got their mechanical engineering badges through [SOAR] last year,” said Kozee. “This year, it was around 60.”
Kozee wants to inspire young women to pursue their dreams in STEM and hopes the historically male-dominated field doesn’t stop them. She’s relayed this message at SOAR’s events with the Girl Scouts of America.
“Everyone else who volunteered and spoke was male, so I spoke to the girls about what it’s like to be a woman in [STEM] and the challenges they can face,” Kozee said.
Kozee believes it is important to help bolster women in the STEM community instead of remaining complacent with the adversity women face.
“Some people think, ‘Oh, it’s harder to be a woman, and that’s what makes us stronger,’ but you could also think about it as ‘It’s harder to be a woman in STEM so let’s make it easier for future women.’ Let’s install an elevator so you don’t have to walk up all of these stairs.”
After graduating from Florida State College in Jacksonville in May 2018 with her Associate of Arts, Kozee wasn’t shy in her endeavors when she transferred to USF. When she discovered SOAR, she knew she wanted to take part in it.
“I went to one of [SOAR’s] First Fifty Days events, and it was amazing,” said Kozee. “They had a rocketry exhibition, virtual reality of rocket launches and all of their rockets on display. “
Kozee has continued on an ambitious track since then.
“When I joined SOAR, I became an outreach leader, got promoted to director of outreach and then got appointed as chief of operations.”
Kozee said that most of the people in SOAR are mechanical engineers, and she is one of the few who are not. Originally studying biochemistry, she switched to studying physics and is working toward a general business certificate.
“Science outreach is my highest priority,” said Kozee. I want to do something that helps the greater good. I think that a museum or college does that, so I want to be a dean or president of a museum or even a president of a university.”
That’s not where her goals end though. Kozee has more than one possibility in mind for her future.
“But then again, I’m also considering being a research manager,” said Kozee. “They oversee all the innovation that goes on in a lab.”
It’s easy to see that Kozee has a lot of drive, which Javian Hernandez, president of SOAR, said he has recognized.
“She’s definitely ambitious … That’s probably one of her strongest traits,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez also noticed positive correlations between Kozee’s position on SOAR’s executive board this year and the number of women who have joined compared to previous years.
“I would say this year specifically, because she is on the executive board, we’ve had more women come to this organization, which is great,” said Hernandez.
There are currently six women in SOAR.
However, as a woman in STEM, Kozee has faced stereotyping. For her, most of it has come from people outside her field.
“They think, ‘Oh, you’re the secretary’ or ‘Oh, you’re the event planner,’” said Kozee.
“Sometimes when talking to people, their tone assumes, ‘Oh aren’t they so cute with their rockets.’ It’s like they’re talking to me like I’m an outsider. But it’s like, “No, I’m one of them.’”
Kozee has faced similar unfair assumptions from her peers in her classes.
“There’s a point where people might overexplain things to you,” Kozee said.
Assumptions and poor treatment don’t bog Kozee down though. She doesn’t dwell on anyone who has doubted her.
“I’m not the type of person to succeed in spite of someone,” said Kozee. “I think that’s a bad mentality. I don’t use that as motivation really, I just try to forget about it.”
Kozee has found solace in Alpha Sigma Kappa, a sorority for women in STEM which she is also the president of. Alpha Sigma Kappa has provided Kozee with a sense of community, something that she values as she navigates her STEM experience.
“A good thing about being a woman in STEM is that you can find groups of like-minded people easily,” said Kozee.