Out of this World: NASA Aerospace Engineer Inspires the Next Generation to Take Flight
How Dr. Camille Alleyne oversees more than 100 programs at NASA, including the next human space shuttle mission
Among a room full of young black girls eager to learn about careers in STEM, Dr. Camille Alleyne shares her journey from Port-of-Spain, Trinidad to NASA, during the first annual Ron Brown Women in STEM Breakfast. With a warm smile and thick Trinidadian accent, Camille describes her childhood and what inspired her to pursue engineering.
“I used to sit on the trunk of dad’s car stargazing, fascinated by space,” says Camille. “I always wanted to venture into areas where few people were.”
At her high school in the Caribbean, Camille had to choose a track to pursue in her last two years of school — she was one of only ten girls out of the 150 female students who chose the science track. Her strong math and science aptitude made engineering a natural fit.
Inspired by her love of space and the tragedy of the Challenger accident in 1986, Camille studied mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace at Howard University and focused her senior thesis on space shuttle computer modeling. While she didn’t always enjoy her core engineering courses, she loved running aero tests in Howard’s wind tunnel and propulsion labs, and credits Howard as a place where she gained both technical and nontechnical skills.
“My experience at Howard gave me a sense of who I was as an African-American woman and helped me gain belief in myself, resilience, courage,” said Camille. “If you don’t know who you are, it’s very hard to operate in the rest of world.”
Upon graduation, she became a Space Shuttle Test Engineer at the Kennedy Space Center. She then earned a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) and a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland. She also has a Doctorate of Education from the University of Houston.
Despite early setbacks in the Air Force, Camille went on to work for the Department of the Navy and the Missile Defense Agency as an aerospace engineer for over 5 years, and then began her tenure at NASA.
“It’s not where you start, but where you finish,” she says.
Starting as a Lead Systems Engineer, she was promoted Assistant Deputy Associate Administrator for Programs. She is especially proud of working on the Mars Mission and contributing work to design, develop, and test for the next human space shuttle, the Orion. As part of an international space program, she developed a model for how the US works with the UN to expose developing countries to space research and its impact. Currently, she oversees more than 100 projects, monitoring their performance and offering her expertise.
“I’ve had the ride of my life,” she says about her exciting career at NASA.
Wanting to expand the pipeline for young girls to pursue careers in STEM, Camille founded the nonprofit Brightest Stars Foundation ‘dedicated to educating, empowering and inspiring young women around the world to be future leaders, through the study of science, math and technology.’ After an inspiring trip to Kenya where she mentored elementary school girls, Camille went on to mentor over 1,000 girls around the world. She plans to continue to teach and advocate for young women of color.
“People of color need to be involved in the space conversation,” says Camille, who is used to being the ‘only’ woman, African American, woman of color, or Black woman in the room.
Though she faced challenges throughout her career, she relied on her strong support system and spirit of determination to overcome them. She encourages women to work hard, be determined, stay focused, persevere and most importantly believe in yourself.
“Excellence neutralizes all the -isms (sexism, racism, etc.),” says Camille. “Strive to be excellent every day.”
Outside of working at NASA and running her nonprofit, Camille designs and builds furniture for herself and others. Building provides a creative outlet to use her mechanical and analytical skills in a different way. Camille lives by a Marianne Williamson quote, summarizing it saying:
“Do not let anyone dim your light; your light is who you are. Who cares if no one likes it.”
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