What do you do?
I create and enable technologies so we can send humans to deep space and other planetary bodies and thrive along the way.
Why did you choose this field?
In high school, my chemistry teacher told us stories about practical things like how soap took grease off pots and pans, and he read excerpts from "A Short History of Nearly Everything". My imagination soared about everyday simple tasks like washing the dishes, or how our clothing and the colors on it were manufactured with chemicals, because everything was chemistry. Chemistry became an amazing puzzle to me. I also found it fascinating that people developed a mathematical system so long ago. I would daydream and imagine ancient life and how chemistry and mathematical discoveries occurred and evolved over time. I was intrigued about how large messages, like science and math, were communicated (or not communicated) to people and how math, chemistry and knowledge just somehow continued to evolve and make its way through time and the present. These practices survived and evolved from so long ago, and I knew I wanted to be a type of good steward or a type of person who practiced and delivered information and technology to send it on to our future generation. What does someone major in with these daydreams?
I really didn’t have a plan. I did not know what an engineer was before college. I had an older brother and the guidance counselor told him to be an engineer. So, I picked a major with that word in it, chemical engineering. I liked chemistry and chemical engineering just sounded very challenging. I wanted to do study something hard so I could prove to people that I could do it and then try to do more challenging things after. I felt I needed to do the difficult degree, so that later, after college, I could continue down a path of continuing to solve challenging problems… Sort of like a ‘nerd street credit’. I always had to study hard and work really hard at good grades, even average grades. It took me a lot of time and work but I always tried because I knew I had an opportunity that others didn’t get the chance for, so I always reminded myself that and worked a little longer.
I also took some environmental politics and waste treatment classes in college. I learned about the global trash issues, and since going to school in New York City, the evolution of New York City’s garbage evolution (fascinating and devastating). So I realized wanted to contribute in a positive way to issues like this, and realized this could be done by people and engineering.
I ended up as a researcher for NASA, looking at ways to re-utilize and convert trash and waste on a space mission into something useful. Today, humanity and Earth are full of problems to solve, and at NASA I try to find solutions to make humanity and the earth a better place to dwell, which includes protecting this spaceship earth as well as future earths we will try to venture to. Our technologies attempt a sustainable human presence in deep space and long duration missions, which include resource re-utilization and using resources that you find around you, rather than launching them from earth. In the meantime, I also lead a team of talented people who work hard to develop technologies that will send humans out to explore as sustainably as possible. As a child, and even as a chemical engineering college student, I never thought I would ever work for NASA, or be in the position I am in. I feel like the stars aligned and my hard work active like gravity, and pulled me in.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
With the right minded people working together as a team, you can achieve anything.
Why do you love working in STEM?
There are so many unknowns to discover and problems to solve in STEM. I wake up every day knowing I can try to make today a little bit better than yesterday. And if that doesn't seem to be working, well, it is, because I at least tried and will note what happened today, reevaluate, and try something different tomorrow.
Best advice for next generation?
Comparing yourself to others can be exhausting. I struggle with imposter syndrome, which can be exhausting. What I have tried to do is: Take that energy of comparing yourself or listening to your inner critic and invest it in yourself and others. You will be in a much better mindset to succeed at what you are reaching for, while helping others along the way.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” - Robert Swan