NASA is celebrating 60 years of exploration of space, advances in aviation, and helping to enrich the economy, create jobs, and strengthen national security. Space exploration has brought together people of diverse backgrounds.
Wendy Okolo is an aerospace engineer. Her Ph.D. dissertation advisor, Dr. Atilla Dogan, was integral to her success in graduate school. Through Dogan, Okolo got the opportunity to work at the Air Force Research Laboratory and in Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs.
Now at NASA Ames, Wendy mentors multiple interns, manages internship opportunities for her team, and serves as the official intern manager for Diagnostics and Prognostics, helping interns assimilate into the center and the Bay Area in California.
NASA internships help attract and retain students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
The Ames Research Center, which is NASA’s center in Silicon Valley, California, contributes to virtually every major NASA mission. Ames is involved in the International Space Station, Journey to Mars, Earth Right Now, and the Solar System and Beyond missions.
Wendy plans an annual Intelligent Systems Division showcase for middle and high school students from local communities underrepresented in STEM. These students are given the opportunity to visit NASA Ames and talk to interns about opportunities at Ames. Wendy partners with local schools and organizations such as Girl STEM Stars.
On a recent field trip to NASA Ames Research Center, Girl STEM Stars met more than 450 interns, fellows and faculty from the Bay Area and across the country working on projects ranging from studying melting water on Mars to unmanned aerial vehicle flight planning and small spacecraft design to computer simulation, drone flight and more.
“Generally, I engage in the mentorship of minorities in STEM within and outside the Silicon Valley Area and I am always one call away from serving on a STEM panel, telling my story, and working to inspire the next generation of minority STEM leaders,” she says.
When she’s not with interns, the Nigerian-born aerospace researcher also serves as the Special Emphasis Programs Manager (SEPM) for women, working to ensure NASA’s commitment to the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women.
Her initiatives include creating nursing rooms for mothers at the center to ease the transition back to work, analyzing job language usage in NASA position descriptions to remove gendered language biases that reduce female applicants and making recommendations to the Ames executive council, the Office of Human Capital, and NASA Headquarters.
Wendy’s best advice to a student entering into aerospace engineering?
“Do your homework (every single set), sit in front (first two rows), put your phone away, and pay attention to your professor. Listen like your life depends on it. It will make your school-life balance so much easier and you will get that 4.0.”
Wendy received Black Engineer’s Most Promising Engineer in Government Award at the 2019 BEYA STEM Conference in Washington D. C.
“Dr. Dogan gave me the tools to be a successful aerospace engineering researcher while also aiding my personal development, teaching me that even though I may have a Ph.D., I should be humble, patient, and kind,” Wendy said. “Dr. Dogan was an effective educator, a great mentor, and most importantly, a friend.”