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Meet the Grads: Gabrielle Hedrick, from France to fighting fires on her path to the stars

Gabrielle Hedrick

During her time at West Virginia University, Gabrielle Hedrick has not only found her passion in aerospace engineering but has also found a family and home among the hills in West Virginia.

Story by Adrianne Uphold, Graduate Assistant


Originally from France, Hedrick moved to the United States nine and a half years ago to pursue her academic career. Hedrick is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and is set to graduate this December.

“I love West Virginia and WVU so much because this place has brought me so many things – I don’t think I was truly happy until I moved to West Virginia,” Hedrick said.

Hedrick received her first master's degree in mining engineering from Ecole Nationale Superieure de Geologie in Nancy, France, and spent a year at a gold mine in South America before pursuing a second master's degree. She is a retired lieutenant from the French Air Force Reserves Space Command where she served for four years. Most of her service happened while she was a Ph.D. candidate at WVU.

She originally planned to study planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, for her doctorate degree, before realizing her true passion was within robotics and more specifically, Mars rovers. At Washington University she joined the NASA Mars Exploration Rover team and worked on interaction rover/terrain and long-term planning for opportunity.

She later transferred to WVU to study aerospace engineering in 2016.

“That was probably the best decision I could have made at the time,” Hedrick said. “I was unhappy at Washington University. Once I transferred everything kind of fell into place. My adviser is incredible, I’ve met great people, and I felt comfortable enough to start a family in Morgantown.”

Hedrick worked on the proposed Mars Sample Return mission, which WVU received funding from NASA, to work on a rover whose goal was to retrieve samples from the surface of Mars. She also worked on the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program awarded to WVU’s Interactive Robotics Laboratory, which is aimed to design and test technology concepts for potential future NASA missions.

Yu Gu, an associate professor in the Statler College and Hedrick’s adviser, allowed her the freedom to study any topic related to her field of interest. Gu also encouraged Hedrick in different areas of her life, like becoming a firefighter at Cheat Lake Volunteer Fire Department and a part-time EMT at A portrait of Gabrielle Hedrick.

“I remember I was in an individual meeting with Gu and I got a 911 call and he looked at me and told me to go,” Hedrick said. “I told him I didn’t have to because I’m a volunteer, and he just let me go. How many advisers would do that?” 

Hedrick, who is also a Statler Fellow, lives in Morgantown with her husband and their two-year-old son, Killian. Statler Fellowships are awarded to master’s and Ph.D. track students and the recipients can receive up to $25,000 per year. She plans to work in human space flight division after graduating, until she can apply to become an astronaut.

“Long term, I want to be an astronaut,” Hedrick said. “Before I get there, I would like to work with any human space flight division that I can. Whether it’s at SpaceX or NASA, I just want to be a part of it.” 



Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, contact our Marketing and Communications office:

Phone: 304-293-4135