The Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program has
inspired thousands of students, and one of the most notable success stories
is Shonte Wright, who graduated from UCSD in 1997 with a B.S. in mechanical
engineering. “Being a member of MESA was vital to my matriculation. Initially,
I was an intimidated 17- year old entering the AMES department (now MAE).
I was one of two or three African-American students in a classroom of
more than 100. That intimidation was heightened every time I overhead
the words ‘they have to let so many of them in.’” After joining MESA,
however, Wright’s confidence skyrocketed. MESA provided an academic community
of students with common backgrounds and experiences, and promoted achievement
and career success.
“After my sophomore year, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in mechanical
engineering with a thermal science emphasis,” says Wright. “My plans were
further solidified after working with Professor Vistasp Karbhari in the
Jacobs School’s structural engineering department, who so eloquently introduced
me to the thermal characterization of composite materials.” According
to Wright, the Jacobs School’s challenging curriculum and rigorous coursework,
combined with MESA’s valuable support, prepared her for graduate work
at North Carolina A&T State University where she completed her master’s
degree and investigated power sources for deep space missions.
Today, Wright is a thermal systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Lab (JPL), where she designs and tests spacecraft hardware to ensure that
it performs efficiently despite extreme temperatures in space. One of
Wright’s current missions is the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) scheduled
for launch in 2003. She is responsible for heater design, thermal testing
and tracking thermal resources, and functional requirements. Wright says
such heat transfer work can make a critical difference in space exploration.
The Mars Pathfinder, for example, performed well in the planet’s harsh
environment, where the surface temperature can drop to nearly -100°
C. The Pathfinder was able to exceed mission requirements and obtain even
more information than anticipated for analysis on earth.
Wright says she appreciates the skills she learned in team engineering
at the Jacobs School.
“I spend a lot of time collaborating with other engineers to define thermal
hardware locations on spacecraft. I ensure that the thermal control needs
are met and that we have designed hardware layouts that can be reasonably
implemented. Consequently, I spend a lot of time working with spacecraft
mock-ups and flight hardware.” NASA has recognized Wright with a JPL Notable
Organization Value-Added (NOVA) Award for initiating the JPL Thermal Tool
User Group, and a JPL Level C Award for her supporting role with the Center
Space Mission Architecture and Design.
Wright did thermal
design studies for the propulsion module of the Europa Orbiter,
scheduled to launch in 2008.
Wright dedicates much of her spare time to inspiring young students—determined
to continue and build upon the tradition of outreach from which she benefited
immensely. She gives science presentations to elementary school kids in
underserved communities, mentors and tutors high school students in Pasadena,
CA, and leads tours and other JPL-related outreach events for elementary
and high school aged students. Wright did thermal design studies for the
propulsion module of the Europa Orbiter, scheduled to launch in 2008.
Looking back, Wright is quick to credit much of her success in academics
and at NASA to the Jacobs School and its MESA Engineering Program. “Glynda
Davis, the Jacobs School MESA Director, has done tremendous things for
MESA. She has worked diligently to see that students within the program
get the academic help they need to succeed, and the career access and
preparation required to excel at the next level.”