Meet: Nigerian Dr. Wendy Okolo a trailblazing NASA aerospace research engineer

Nigerian born Dr. Wendy Okolo is an aerospace research engineer at the Ames Research Center, a major National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) research center in California’s Silicon Valley. Okolo. NASA is the U.S. agency responsible for the civilian space program, aeronautics and aerospace research.

Okolo works as a special emphasis programs manager in the Intelligent Systems Division of the Ames Research Center. According to Black Engineer, she is currently leading work on a System-Wide Safety (SWS) project, and a Space Technology Mission Directorate Early Career Initiative (STMD-ECI) project. The SWS project involves predicting GPS faults in unmanned aerial systems commonly known as drones. While the STMD-ECI project, aims to develop unconventional control techniques for deployable vehicles, to enable precision landing and improve maneuverability during the entry, descent, and landing phases of spaceflight.

Her past is just as impressive; at only 26 years old she became the first black woman to obtain a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington, where she earned both her undergraduate and doctoral degrees.

In her undergraduate she was president of the society of women engineers in the university and as she pursued her graduate degree, she worked as a summer researcher from 2010 to 2012 in the Control Design & Analysis Branch at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Where she worked with the team that flew the world fastest manned aircraft which flew from coast to coast in a jaw dropping 67 minutes for a trip that could take some of the world’s fastest aircrafts over five hours.

Speaking to the Cable about the experience, Okolo said she had to battle impostor’s syndrome when she found out she would be working with such a great team.

“I was like I am sure these guys are so smart, what am I going to bring in,” she said. She went on an error in the code in the systems and she fixed that and “that fixed the impostor syndrome for a while”.

Further to these accomplishments her previous research has been recognized and funded by the Department of Defense through the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship; Zonta International, through the Amelia Earhart Fellowship; and the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics through the John Leland Atwood Graduate Fellowship.

Now Okolo has a blazing career at NASA and this year won the BEYA Global Competitiveness Conference award for the most promising engineer in the United States government.

The BEYA Conference itself strives to create connections between students, educators and STEM professionals while facilitating partnerships with individuals and their local STEM resources. A fete that matches with Okolo’s aim to continue encouraging girls to pursue their dreams in STEM.

By Kylie Kiunguyu