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“I can almost directly trace my entire career back to [my extracurriculars] in high school and a mentor I had. My first foray into engineering was this high school program called the Robotics Science Academy. It was basically my high school’s attempt to put together a curriculum that was designed specifically to prepare students for an engineering track in college. But since it was the first year of trying this program, there were only about eight of us. The high school teacher leading the robotics track, Mr. Donelson, was always [encouraging] about trying new things and getting out of our comfort zone. And I think that always really helped me.
“So I owe a lot to him, for sure. He would stay after school with us and walk us through our assignments, and ended up encouraging us to enter an underwater robotics competition. Because we were fairly landlocked — which is obviously not great for underwater robotics that are meant for deep sea missions — we sort of lucked our way into the international competition.
“Even so, we ended up winning a ‘bang for your buck’ award based on the amount of tasks we completed in the mission and the cost of our robot, because the cost was very, very low. It was just this Frankenstein monstrosity of PVC pipes and messy high schooler soldering and wiring. But no matter how it looked, I was lucky to have teachers like Mr. Donelson to push all of us forward.”
— Jennifer Hamilton, Communications Lead, ISS Research Integration Office, NASA’s Johnson Space Center
Image Credit: NASA / James Blair
Interviewer: NASA / Thalia Patrinos
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