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Center Snapshot: Kelsey Rooks
Kelsey Rooks, center snapshot Image above: Kelsey Rooks is a center lead for DEVELOP, a training and development program sponsored by NASA's Earth Sciences Applied Sciences program, headquartered at NASA Langley. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Denise Lineberry

Kelsey Rooks was once a wildly curious child who planted many seeds of interest. Now, as a recent college graduate who serves as NASA Langley’s DEVELOP center lead, many of those seeds have bloomed.

While other elementary school students were spending recess playing dodge ball and hopscotch, Rooks was gathering rocks. She would put them in her pockets and carry them home to polish, test and identify -- skills she learned from her aunt and uncle.

"They [aunt and uncle] would help me polish my rocks -- however common and dirty they were -- identify them, and then teach me even more about the earth and how it works," Rooks said. "I certainly credit my passion for earth science to them."

She graduated from Christopher Newport University in December of 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and double minors in chemistry and leadership studies.

"I studied a variety of topics, from organic chemistry and microbiology to ornithology and ethical leadership," Rooks said.

Rooks got an early lesson in leadership as a captain of her middle school soccer team, which her father coached.

Later in life, while studying and living on campus at CNU, she served as a resident assistant (RA) for three years. Rooks believes that her experience as an RA made the transition from DEVELOP student intern to DEVELOP team lead to DEVELOP center lead a natural one.

At a young age, Rooks discovered her love of animals. That has carried on through her life and in 2009, she began to volunteer for the Peninsula Humane Foundation. Her role with the organization quickly evolved into managing a volunteer team, which supports animal rescue adoptions, and she handles the organization’s social networking.

The organization brings cats into PetCo, a local pet store, for shoppers to meet and play with. This activity became so popular that Rooks put together a secondary team of CNU students to grow the effort.

Rooks also serves as a community advisor for CNU's Be the Match chapter, which is a part of the larger National Marrow Donor Program.

"This organization raises awareness and educates the CNU community about the importance of registering to become a bone marrow donor, and what it takes to get involved," Rooks said.

She originally got involved with Be the Match when her best friend’s father was in need of a bone marrow transplant. She organized the first drive at CNU in March of 2009 and 100 people registered. The event is now annual and is expected to register about 250 people during its spring drive.

"We’ve registered over 600 people since our first drive, and most of the campus knows who we are, which is a huge difference from when I started," Rooks said.

Last summer, Rooks auditioned and then sang the National Anthem at one of the Richmond Flying Squirrels’ baseball games.

"I had never had the opportunity to perform like that before, and it was thrilling to sing in front of an audience of over 8,500 people,” Rooks said. "All of my family, friends and neighbors were there, so it really felt like one big gathering and celebration."

Her start in singing came by way of her church when she was 8 years old. While in high school chorus, she was able to travel to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom , where she sang with her group and performed a solo during spring break.

For her high school graduation, her parents gave her a few hours in a studio, where she recorded a demo of her original songs, combining her piano and vocal skills.

On March 10, she will audition again to sing the National Anthem at a Flying Squirrels’ game.

While in college as a sophomore, Rooks met with her supervisor, who asked, "How do you want to be remembered? Do you want to work hard and leave a legacy?"

This was a defining moment for her, and those questions encouraged her to be a leader in all areas of her life.

"From then on (I was) always pushing myself to be better than my last project or the last assignment, and I kept trying harder, so that I could lead by example for others to follow," Rooks said. "From then on, I decided to set my own standards and not base my success in comparison to the work others were doing. I wanted to be proud of what I had accomplished because it truly was the best work I was doing -- not just because it looked better than the next product."

At Langley, Rooks manages and oversees the science teams for DEVELOP’s Langley location, along with the two other center leads.

"This means that I play part scientist and part manager, which can be a challenge," she said.

By establishing partnerships and working with science teams that conduct research projects, she ensures innovative and useful deliverables for project partners. She also helps to prepare students and interns to present their own work and to communicate the value of their work.

Rooks had attended several events between Washington, D.C., and Hampton and she has met with many delegates, senators and other aerospace leaders.

On her wall at home is a bucket with her "bucket list" on it. It includes publishing a novel, learning French and eventually opening a scrapbook shop -- another favorite pastime of hers.

But for Rooks, most pastimes never became a thing of the past. Instead, they grew into her future.

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman