Through humility, focus and hard work, Megan Meehan realized her dream of being a NASA aerospace engineer.
[image-51][image-78][image-94][image-110][image-126]Aerospace engineer Megan Meehan says that keeping humble makes her work harder. She has been working hard ever since the third grade when she decided to become an engineer.
Anytime she asked her computer scientist parents a question, they did not give her the answer, but instead taught her how to find it. The biggest question for Meehan was always what kind of engineer she wanted to become.
Meehan’s career epiphany happened during her 10th birthday party while watching the movie “Apollo 13.”
“Two-thirds of the way through the movie, there is a scene where mission controllers are in a conference room after the explosion damaged the air filtration system. One mission controller said to the other, ‘We’ve got to make this fit into the hole for this using nothing but that.’ The ‘that’ was a box of available spare parts, and the movie showed how the engineers worked through the problem, found a solution and helped to save the crew,” recalls Meehan.
At that exact moment, she decided to pursue a career as an aerospace engineer working for NASA.
After she found the solution to her career aspirations, Meehan still needed to chart the path from a small town in New Jersey to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
In sixth grade, Meehan, as a school newspaper reporter, accompanied another class to the Buehler Challenger and Science Center in Paramus, New Jersey, near her childhood home in Moonachie, New Jersey. She thought it was the coolest thing ever.
The Buehler Challenger and Science Center is home to one of over 40 Challenger Learning Centers around the globe. These centers are part of Challenger Center for Space Science Education, a not-for-profit organization that employs a unique, immersive learning method to encourage students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The families of the crewmembers lost in the 1986 Challenger accident founded the organization. Dr. June Scobee Rodgers, widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee, was the founding chairperson.
After eighth grade, Meehan wanted to attend the Buehler Center’s annual summer camp. She learned that she had just aged out of being a camper, but was thrilled to be a voluntary junior counselor for two weeks. During that time, she mentored middle school students in science experiments and simulated space missions in the center’s replicated space station and mission control. She was hooked.
Throughout high school, she continued to volunteer the maximum of two weeks every summer. She helped establish a partnership between her high school, the Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, New Jersey, and Buehler Challenger and Science Center. A highlight was the annual Family Science Morning event, for which Meehan and her classmates provided interactive science demonstrations geared towards the elementary and middle school children. Meehan also assisted the center with other special events including guest speakers.
It was during one of these events that she was able to meet a NASA engineer who built robots. “It was pretty awesome to meet a real, live, interesting NASA engineer,” said Meehan. “I wanted to emulate him.” Years later, she ran into him and thanked him for changing her life. He was very surprised, but she thought it was important to tell him.
Meehan began public speaking engagements in college. Although too old to volunteer at the center’s camps anymore, she continued her involvement with the Family Science Morning events by demonstrating her own research and designs for advanced spacesuit technologies. Her senior year in college, she and several classmates were guest speakers for the Alexandria, Virginia center explaining their senior capstone design project.
It was no wonder that, upon college graduation in 2006, Meehan already had a job at NASA Goddard as an aerospace engineer for the Hubble Space Telescope. She is currently working with the Atmospheric Topographic Laser Altimeter System.
“I’m literally living the dream I’ve had since I was a third grader,” said Meehan. “In 2009, when we launched STS-125, the Hubble Servicing Mission, it really hit me that everything had come full circle when I walked into mission control and put on a headset.”
She attributes much of her success to her early association with Challenger Center and the Buehler Challenger and Science Center and cherishes every chance she gets to share her experience with them, especially with students considering a career in a STEM field. Without their help, she believes that she would not be what she is today. The feeling is reciprocated. In Scobee Rodgers’ 2011 book “Silver Linings,” which includes the story of how she helped establish Challenger Center, she details Meehan’s involvement as one of Challenger Center’s success stories.
"It is our mission to help educate our students and to inspire and excite them about STEM subjects and future careers in these important fields,” said Scobee Rodgers. “It is truly gratifying to hear how our center did just that for Megan, and to know that she combined that inspiration with her own ability, dedication and commitment to fulfill her dreams.”
“I recognized and took advantage of opportunities, but I also worked incredibly hard,” said Meehan. “I’m very thankful to my parents, several mentors and Challenger Center for helping me to recognize these opportunities and provide the encouragement to live my dream.”
For additional information about the Buehler Challenger and Science Center in New Jersey, please visit www.bcsc.org. For additional information about Challenger Center, including a full list of Challenger Learning Centers around the globe, visit www.challenger.org
Read about the robot competition in "I, Tormentum."
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