Jurczyk Asks Nelson Graduates to Pursue Challenges
By: Jim Hodges
At their graduation ceremony Wednesday, Steve Jurczyk challenged Thomas Nelson Community College's Class of 2012 to find a way to harness solar energy cheaply, to convert salt water into fresh in bulk, to deliver health care to those who need it and to take on other world needs.
"Some would tell you that we cannot solve some of the most daunting challenges," Jurczyk, NASA Langley's deputy center director, told many of the 735 graduates and their families and friends at the Hampton University Convocation Center.
"They say we no longer have the will or the ingenuity to solve some of our most critical problems," Jurczyk said. "I believe they are wrong. At work, in our community, in our state, nation and around the world, I see people who are innovating and working for social change to meet many of these challenges."
Jurczyk was speaking to a graduation class for the first time. Members of the class included NASA Langley co-ops George West and James McWright. Also there was Stewart Harris, deputy director for technical services at NASA Langley's Engineering Directorate. Harris received the Thomas Nelson Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Jurczyk offered NASA Langley's efforts in tackling the world's challenges.
"At NASA, we're working on solutions involving alternative energy," he said. "Our people are working on systems to harness high-altitude winds, and are developing safe, affordable, efficient nuclear energy-based systems.
"People think NASA just means space flight, but our atmospheric scientists use data gathered from NASA satellites and those of other agencies and other nations to solve many challenges. ... Did you know that astronauts use purified recycled water and that NASA is working in other areas to make better use of the Earth's water? Did you know that the International Space Station is being used in developing vaccines?"
"Still," he added, "you don't have to be an engineer or work for NASA to take on the world's challenges."
Many of the Class of 2012 are going on to universities to finish their formal education before going on to the workforce. Others have taken courses to foster career change.
"Regardless, let your accomplishment here tonight serve as a stepping stone to life-long learning," Jurczyk said. "You can earn your degree, you can get a job, but to be truly successful you must never stop learning. As you gain experience, you're going to find there are so many more things you need to know to advance your career and your life."
The parameters of jobs should be challenged and so should the person working in them.
"Seek out challenging assignments," Jurczyk advised. "Find ways to expand your capabilities, break out of your comfort zone, and find a mentor to help you along your career path."
And periodic failure is inevitable along the way.
"Perhaps you'll wonder why you even tried," Jurczyk said. "Why you didn't just stay on safe, solid ground, do your job and go home.
"Maybe you can take something from this: Every NASA project doesn't result in a rocket that is gloriously launched into space. But every NASA project results in lessons that are learned and applied to future projects. If you're afraid to fail, or if you don't learn from your failures, you're probably not going to be very successful. You're not going to help confront the world's challenges that way."
All of this is a way to meet a challenge laid down 2,500 years ago by the Chinese philosopher Confucius, Jurczyk added: "Find a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life."
Each of the graduates is undergoing a metamorphosis, with many more to follow. Change can be daunting.
"Early on I grew to understand that change is not something to be afraid of, but rather something to embrace," Jurczyk said. "Change is seldom accomplished by one person. It takes a group, and it takes leadership in that group to foster that change.
"Just as important, though, is understanding this: You aren't alone in trying to engender and control change. Others also understand that they are part of a world that's constantly changing, that's creating new technologies, that's adjusting to make the most of change."
Like many in NASA, Jurczyk was inspired by events that today’s college graduates see as pages in a history book: Apollo, various early missions to explore Mars and other endeavors on which the agency cut its exploratory teeth.
"I believe humanity's destiny is to explore that something bigger," Jurczyk said. "To learn more about places beyond the Earth. Perhaps to live there. In some ways, it's no different than our forefathers exploring the American frontier. The next wild West could well be a plain on Mars.
"It's also one of the reasons I became an engineer: to be a part of that exploration. I'm not an astronaut. I'm never going to have the opportunity to explore Mars. But you might. And like any opportunity, I hope you make the most of it."
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