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A young engineer steps into the light

In high school, Janelle Wellons was an outstanding student
Classes, especially math, and quickly rose to the top of their class. Until the
In the spring of her last year she had a letter of admission from her dream in hand
School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But while that should have been
It was a joyful time, an incident involving a high school classmate was a long one

"One of my classmates approached me in
in front of a group of friends and said, "We all know the reason why you were accepted
It's all about MIT because you're black, "Wellons recalled." Nobody
Standing there said something, and the fact that no one stood up for me spoke
Volumes. "

Today, Wellons shows no indication of how close she is
came to give up ̵

1; not because of the sting of a comment that broke the word
Surface, but because of doubts and questions that worked invisibly while
their formative years.

Bright eyes with an exuberant personality and
Heartfelt laugh, she works as an engineer in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, California, where she operates the diviner instrument of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – a radiometer, the
measures the surface temperature of the moon. Wellons is also developing the
System that controls the instrument Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols, the
will start around 2022 to study how Earth's pollutants affect human health
on a global scale.

Only three years after college, she is one of
the youngest employees on a lunar and an earth mission. But while she
Progress was fast, it was not easy.

A Gray Summit

Wellons grew up in South Jersey, the oldest of its kind
two siblings. Her mother was a secretary to an oil and gas company and she
Father worked in warehouses. When she was about 6 years old, she went with her
Mother on a day when you bring your child to work, and spent the morning surrounded by
Engineers make demonstrations for the children.

"It opened my eyes to recognize: an engineer
makes things! "That's what I thought."

But as she got older, Wellons realized that
Achieving their goals was sometimes accompanied by prejudice. The letter of admission
Incident was not her only racism. Wellons felt racial tensions
Throughout her school days, especially as she was often one of the few
black students in their advanced internship classes.

"It somehow defined me, it was like her
could not see anything else, "she says. In high school, people are joking
about bad things all the time and they always say they just wanted to joke
OK, but after a while it comes to you, "she says.

In her last year, she remembered:" Something
just was not right. "

It did not feel hurt what alarmed her
feel nothing at all.

Wellons received their spring of last year
A call from the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs with the message that
She had received a scholarship.

"It should have been a very happy moment, but
I felt nothing and hung up the phone and sat outside
Lockers, "she recalled," when I realized that I could not feel happy
It became clear to me that something was really wrong with me.

"Then the suicidal thoughts started
to sneak in like, "Why can not I have any more authentic reactions?" I knew it
was a serious problem. "

Drop the label

Wellon's parents sought out a therapist who could help them
she and when she joined MIT, things improved dramatically. She joined a black man
Fraternity, mortgaged a sisterhood and interacted with a multicultural community
on the campus.

"I definitely had a big transformation in
College, "she says. If you remove the label "smart black girl",
you become your own person and people can also have a conversation. "

Nevertheless, their course was demanding and demanding
Wellons quickly realized that, as she says, she was "in another realm of cunning".
She sits next to a gold medalist in International Mathematics
Olympics and doubts why she was admitted to MIT. "But that was good

Although she thought she could major in
Mathematics, an aerospace class, changed their mind. The professor
showed a photo of an astronaut repairing NASA 's Hubble Space Telescope and
showed that he was the person in the photo. Wellons was in awe.

"The opportunity to be taught by a teacher
I was not allowed to miss astronauts, "she said. I realized
I wanted to do that – I will learn something from experts about space! I was
That blew her away. "

Another professor introduced her to the value of
critical self-assessment during a capstone project in the Antarctic
Penetrator probe. "He was a really tough professor who said angrily," This
would never pass a review in the industry and would strongly criticize ours
Presentations, "she recalled. But my standards are much higher now
Because of him, and I'm just picky.

Real-Time Engineer

Wellons applies this work ethic around the clock
at JPL. It is available around the clock for the Diviner instrument Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Sometimes she got calls at 2 am and in rare cases had to rush to her
Laptop in the middle of a night with friends.

"The one scary thing is you are the one
Engineer responsible for the success of the instrument, "she said. she
are the operator, and you can not afford to be sloppy in this job. instruments
do not sleep. "

Wellons typical day begins with the review of
Health and safety of her instrument or, as she puts it, "make sure it is
alive and healthy. "Then she will work with the science team and depending on
What they would like to see helps to find out if their wishes can be fulfilled
without endangering the well-being of the instrument.

"They are responsible for that
Scientists do not go to the limit, "she explained. If you can do it
greedy, you could break the instrument.

Then she creates the commands that are sent
to the instrument.

Community Builder

At JPL, Wellons compensates for her gratitude
Career and awareness that having a black engineer is challenging.

"I'm so thankful to be here because
When I was growing up, I've rarely seen anyone who looks like I'm working in a company
so incredibly amazing to write history every day, "she said
At the same time that does not mean that [there aren’t] made comments to me. JPL is invented
of individuals with their own thoughts and experiences and perspectives on
Life, so of course you will have instances. It definitely will not
Slow me down. "

To spread the message of inclusion, Wellons
is on the board of the African American Resource Team of JPL, which she helps

"It's about building a cultural community
and encouraging other young people to work here, "she says.

Wellons often has brain work, but she does
takes the time to give something back.

Last summer she spent two weeks in South Korea.
Help third- to sixth-graders in Spacecamp to learn about aliens
Fire volcano body, fire bottle rocket and simulate ro-process.

When you look back at what she's been through, Wellons
continues to focus on the positive attitude and make the most of her time with JPL – seeking
Locate mentors, gain diverse experiences and target them
to make their voice and their vision heard.

"Being here for a short time does not mean that
you can not achieve great things quickly, "she said.
But in her experience not easy and not without
the right people at your side on the way.

"I am immensely grateful for the
Opportunities and support that brought me to JPL because there never was
Straight shot, "Wellons said." Do not forget the supporters
you believed in yourself, prayed for you, taught you, and saved you as you did
I felt particularly depressed.

News Media Contact

Matthew Segal
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
[email protected]

Written by Celeste Hoang


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