Student Features

NASA Understudy
Nehemiah Mabry uses a band saw to cut a material

Nehemiah Mabry cuts fiberglass tabs for composite samples that will be used in his research at NASA. Image Credit: Nehemiah Mabry

Graduate student Nehemiah Mabry just wrapped up his sixth summer at NASA. Mabry has participated in NASA projects in high school, college and now graduate school. He currently is helping engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., use specialized sensors to find and monitor defects like cracks or breaks in composite materials earlier.

In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?

I was originally accepted into the NASA Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program as a high school student in 2003. I went on to volunteer the next summer, and then I participated in the Minorities in Science and Engineering program throughout my undergrad career. Now I am recently a part of the NASA Graduate Student Researchers Project. All of these were at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement and why this topic is important.

My predominant research has been in the area of structural health monitoring. I have been studying the capability of Fiber Bragg Gratings sensors in fiber optic cables to detect fractures in composite materials. This carries an importance in and out of the aerospace industry by allowing conditions of structures to be known by monitoring damage before failures occur, thus preventing greater devastation.

What has been the most exciting part of your research?

The most exciting part of my research has been my exposure to different aspects of NASA. I've enjoyed being able to do things like operate equipment, view large material tests, and sit in interesting meetings that have all had some part to play in making the profound achievements of spaceflight possible.

What is your educational background, and what are your future educational plans?

I’ve just completed bachelor's degrees in applied mathematics and civil engineering from both Oakwood University and the University of Alabama in Huntsville. I will begin my master's program in structural engineering at UAH this fall.

Nehemiah Mabry looking at a rectangular material in his hand

Nehemiah Mabry examines a carbon composite specimen for testing. Image Credit: Nehemiah Mabry

What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?

I believe that God has blessed me with certain gifts and talents fit for where I am. At an early age, I noticed that I had strengths in math and sciences. That, coupled with my enjoyment of drawing and design, led me to choose such a field that sort of combined the two. However, I was introduced to the actual world of engineering by my father.

What do you think will be the most important things you’ll take away from your involvement with NASA?

Identifying the most important thing is difficult for me because I feel that I have gained so many important things. But one thing that I will always remember is the value of building a professional reputation of hard work and diligence. When working as a part of a team or an organization, you always want a person whom you know you can depend on. I have gained a strengthened desire to be that person since being involved with NASA.

How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?

During my time at NASA, I have developed a confidence that I can offer something of great intellectual value to the world. This confidence has motivated me to do just that, with God's help.

What are your future career plans?

It is my goal to become an engineer whose work is to the utmost benefit to others. Whether it's in the aerospace industry or in the field of civil engineering, I would like to contribute to the betterment of society in some way. I have not limited my plans to a certain area; I am open to whatever opportunity allows me to achieve my goal. If NASA desires to continue providing such opportunities, that'll be great.

What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." (Ecclesiastes 9:10) Always take advantage of opportunities you have to advance your knowledge and give it your best shot. Don’t be afraid to take risks, but always keep moving forward despite failures and disappointments. Be sure to attain a high and noble purpose and maintain that motivation. The best investment one can make with their life is in something that will outlive it.

Related Resources
NASA Graduate Student Researchers Project
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Marshall Education   →
NASA Education

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services