Rising Technical Contributor Award

Sarah Niles

Spirit AeroSystems Inc.

For developing technical engineering design processes to improve efficiency; for taking challenging assignments beyond the traditional design role; and for promoting women’s success in STEM globally through SWE and SWEPT.

Sarah Niles is a Level II design engineer for Spirit AeroSystems Inc. in Wichita, Kansas. At Spirit, she has had myriad opportunities to collaborate with different teams on a variety of systems within the organization. Spirit is a tier-one supplier of large, complex aerostructures. Niles has supported the Boeing 737 MAX-10, collaborated on Virgin Hyperloop One, and assisted with the Boeing 737 reallocation project, among others.

Her interest in STEM began early, building mini structures with Lego bricks and Lincoln Logs and participating in extracurricular activities that enhanced her problem-solving and leadership skills. Niles’ aspirations to become an engineer led her to Iowa State University and, upon completion of her degree, to a position with Spirit. In her current role, she serves as a lead design engineer and process focal on a Department of Defense program coordinating design processes and release dates and reporting directly to senior management.

The Boeing 737 Max-10 project provided Niles solid footing, allowing her to gain valuable insight about how commercial airplanes are designed and built. She was the focal for designing and releasing the section 43 upper lobe frames and an integration installation drawing that spanned the entire length of section 43. Within her first year at Spirit, she released all packages on time with a 97% first pass yield metric.

As she gained experience, her opportunities and responsibilities increased. She was selected to assist with the Boeing 737 reallocation project when the pandemic and the grounding of the 737 Max forced the company to store more than 100 fuselages. Niles’ work on the project ranged from modifying detailed work statements to engineering rework drawings and making sure those changes were communicated across the board and met customer expectations.

She has applied her skills in other areas, namely, as chair of Spirit Women in Engineering Professions and Technology (SWEPT), an employee business resource group that promotes gender diversity across Spirit. She is serving a second term to provide continuity in leadership as employees return to work sites as the global pandemic eases. During her tenure, she organized the first Women’s History Month hosted by SWEPT and helped launch SWEPT chapters outside of corporate headquarters in Spirit Malaysia, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. SWEPT membership grew by 30% as a result of these efforts.

Niles joined the SWE Wichita Section in 2017 and has been involved with the section’s flagship event, Engineering Expo, in cooperation with Spirit, SWEPT, and Wichita Community Relations. She has also held several positions within the Wichita Section: awards chair, treasurer, and Engineering Expo co-chair, and film director.

She has earned several Spirit awards citing her technical experience and diversity leadership. In 2020, she received the Vice President of Engineering Achievement and the Leader in Diversity awards. She also received the Young Engineer of the Year award from the Wichita Council of Engineering Societies.

Niles holds a B.S. in aerospace engineering from Iowa State University with a minor in entrepreneurial studies. Aside from work and professional activities, she enjoys camping, editing videos for her YouTube channel, and spending time on her Sunfish sailboat.