Fransua Thomas has fulfilled a lifelong dream working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Today, he makes it a personal mission to expose students to the rewards of college football, physics, and careers in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM).
Fransua is a materials engineer at NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) in Cleveland, Ohio. He joined NASA as a co-op and got hired fulltime in 2010 as an aerospace research engineer. Currently, his duties include research in the Mechanisms and Tribology Branch at NASA.
“Tribology is the study of friction and lubrication,” Fransua explains. “I do a lot of testing on the way surfaces interact or how they rub. We test a sample to see how long it will last in space.” Space mechanisms operate under harsh conditions and extreme temperatures.
Fransua attended Tuskegee University in Alabama and graduated with degrees in physics and electrical engineering from the historically black college. “My concentration was semiconductors, that’s how I got started in materials,’ he said.
During his undergraduate years, Fransua was not only vice president of the Physics Club, but he also played football.
“I used football to pay for school,” he said. “I played football for four years at Tuskegee and achieved three rings and one National championship.”
When he’s not working on space mechanisms, Fransua serves as a volunteer for STEM activities.
“I mentor kids throughout the Cleveland area, and I tutor math and physics. It fills my heart with joy when I teach something new or different, and they get it. It brings a sense of purpose to me,” Fransua said.
“It’s important for more African American scientists and engineers to go into classrooms to help educate young people. A lot of these kids think sports and being an entertainer will take you to that next level. The fact is only about 1 percent make it. We have a lot of openings in the STEM field,” he added.
In recognition of his efforts, Fransua received the 2019 Black Engineer of the Year Award for Community Service from Carol W. Carroll, the deputy center director at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.
“He has demonstrated he is a very strong leader and role model in the STEM community by volunteering for various interactions with young, impressionable students,” Caroll said at the BEYA Gala in February. “Although he has his young family at home, it’s important to him to dedicate time and energy to serving his community and the young technologists of our country.”
Fransua has built a reputation for mentoring and providing guidance to new engineers and helping interns. Over the past five years, he has volunteered in the Assumption Academy Science Fair as a judge. He helps youth development in an organization called Promoting Achievement through Community Education (PACE), and he participates in a variety of NASA Glenn Research Center Outreach activities such as High School Shadowing Day, Career Exploration Day and University Day.
As assistant to the chair at the 2018 First Robotics Buckeye Regional Competition held in Cleveland, Ohio, Fransua was charged with hosting dignitaries from NASA and coordinating activities during the competition. He also served as a coach at the Olivet Institutional Baptist Churches First League Robotics, with his team taking first place in the Avon District Competition.
“With great role models, teachers and mentors, I’ve learned we’re all bestowed with a special gift,” Fransua said in his acceptance speech at BEYA. “I’ve chosen to help, to motivate, inspire and uplift our youth. Join me by becoming involved in a youth program. Your impact can be limitless,” he urged. Take a listen.