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Following Her Twin Sisters’ Path, Kayla Farrow Makes Her Own Mark in ODU Engineering Program

Kayla FarrowKayla Farrow

When Kayla Farrow and her twin sisters were growing up in Norfolk, they kept an "invention book." Whenever any of them would come up with an idea for a product, or an innovation to solve a problem, they'd write it in the book.

Someday, Kayla, Alicia and Felicia Farrow hope the contents of that book contain the next "great idea" for the aspiring inventors. The Maury High School graduates' dream is to launch an engineering company together. "We're actually incorporated through LegalZoom," Kayla said with a smile. "We want to create software and electric devices to help people's lives."

For now, the Farrow sisters are star students in Old Dominion University's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

Twins Alicia and Felicia are master's students, in civil and electrical engineering, respectively. Kayla is a rising junior in electrical and computer engineering, with a 3.81 grade point average. She was also selected as a 2012-13 undergraduate STEM Bridge Scholar by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC), earning an $8,500 grant to conduct research with a team at NASA Langley Research Center. The group is looking at the effect of lightning strikes on the open circuit sensors of airplanes. Farrow will give a presentation on the research at the VSGC conference next year.

"I've been working with an amazing group of people all year at NASA - George Szatkowski, Laura Smith and Kenneth Dudley - who actually worked with my sister Felicia during her time in the NASA internship program," said Kayla, 20. "It's funny, they're older than me, but I don't notice the age difference at all. They're just so passionate about the work that they do. It just feels like family there."

Until the sisters' dream of an engineering innovation company is realized, Kayla said she'd love to work at NASA Langley.

Her interest in science and math was sparked when she was in sixth grade, through her participation in the STEM Club program. The Norfolk Public Schools program, hosted at Nauticus, offered students with a passion for math and science a chance to take part in various projects, such as dissecting fish and identifying plant life.

"It was what really got me interested in math and science," Kayla said. She wrote a letter to her program instructors, Paul Jones and Elizabeth Hobson, thanking them for making science exciting.

Initially, Kayla was considering pre-med, but her sisters' experience at ODU engineering convinced her to follow in their path. "The great thing about ODU is that there are so many opportunities, but it's small enough that that you can get personal attention. If I'd gone to a bigger program, I might not have known about the Space Grant Consortium program," she said.

Kayla Farrow has certainly impressed her adviser, Batten College assistant dean Linda Vahala. "She's a wonderful person, and very smart and driven. It's been a pleasure to work with her," Vahala said.

Her parents, James and Mona Farrow, do not have a science background, but Kayla said they placed a tremendous value on education. Mona works with the ODU Libraries in the access services department, and James is currently back at school pursuing a doctoral degree in business.

"Their love of learning inspired all three of us," Kayla said.

When she was in high school, Kayla also had a group of friends who ended up pursuing the sciences themselves, and who now attend schools such as Columbia and Virginia Tech.

In addition, Kayla said her late grandfather, Roy E. Hinton, had a huge impact on the three Farrow girls, encouraging them to take advantage of opportunities he didn't have.

"There's so much room for creativity in engineering. That's what our invention book is all about," she said.

ODU is part of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, a coalition of five Virginia colleges and universities, NASA, state educational agencies, Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology and other institutions representing diverse aerospace interests.

VSGC acts as an umbrella organization, coordinating and developing aerospace-related and high-technology educational and research efforts throughout the commonwealth, and connecting Virginia's effort to a national community of shared aerospace interests.