Last month, NASA announced the appointment of Vanessa Wyche as the deputy director of the Johnson Space Center, the first African-American to hold the position.
Wyche has been with the JSC for nearly 30 years, but her road to NASA wasn't exactly a straight line. Prior to her hiring, “I didn’t know working at NASA was an option,” she told the Houston Chronicle. When she graduated from Clemson University for her bachelor's in materials engineering and her master's in bioengineering, she was one of just two women of color in both classes. She went on to work at the Food and Drug Administration, and at 25 years old she became the first woman hired by NASA in their space life sciences division, developing biomedical technology for the space shuttle.
Now, Wyche wants to be the representation she never had, ensuring kids “get to see that people who look like them work at NASA and they know they can do it as well." Wyche devotes time to visiting schools — from elementary to university — and encouraging students to pursue STEM fields and finish their degrees.
“If in any way I can help a little girl or boy decide that they want to be an engineer or an astronaut,” she said, “I feel grateful to be able to do that, to let anyone know they can be a part of this.”
In the '80s when Wyche began her career, there were very few female engineers or women in positions of leadership. While there still exists disparity, particularly for women of color, Wyche is using her role to combat the issue. This summer, she told Grand Strand Magazine about her goal to "let others know they’re not alone." She said, “We know there are times when you’re in a group of all men and the man says something, then the woman says something, but the man’s idea is a great idea. We talk about how you let them know it was your idea, and do that without getting frustrated or grumpy about it.”
Thanks to Wyche, girls and women can all feel a little less alone.