Text Size

NASA's Commitment to Diversity Inspires Deaf Students
Research scientist Michael Johansen describes dust mitigation technology to Society of Physics students

Image above: Inside a laboratory in the Engineering Development Laboratory at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, research scientist Michael Johansen, in the blue polo shirt, describes dust mitigation technology to a group of Society of Physics students. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston
› View Larger Image

Being able to hear a rocket roar off the pad is not a requirement for a successful career at NASA 30 students from Osceola County learned Nov. 13 during their visit to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A panel of ten deaf professionals delivered that message "loud and clear" to the students who are all deaf or hearing impaired. Twenty of the students attend special classes at Osceola High School and 10, at Neptune Middle School in Kissimmee, Fla.

The visit was arranged by sign language interpreter Jennifer Rogers as part of her graduate coursework at the University of North Florida, and co-sponsored by Kennedy's Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity and the Education and External Relations Directorate.

Among the professionals on the panel were Ed Tugg and Apurva Varia of NASA, Martin Ayers of Lockheed Martin, and William Deters of SpaceX, all of whom had a common theme: "If we could do it, you can, too." Their collective goal was to inspire the students to stay in school and study hard to become career professionals themselves someday.

The panel also was moderated by an outstanding role model for the group, Jessica Connor, a graduate-level co-op student majoring in counseling. Connor, who is herself deaf, will be converted to a permanent, full-time NASA position in Kennedy's Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity in January after her graduation.

Following the presentation held in the Training Auditorium, the students were treated to a tour of Kennedy that included stops at the Vehicle Assembly Building, Launch Pad 39A and the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

"They loved it, absolutely loved it," said Lisa Allen, Diversity and Inclusion Program manager at Kennedy. "They didn't know that deaf people worked at Kennedy, and they got to see a variety of options here for what they could do with their lives."

Kennedy's various Employee Resource Groups sponsor similar events for targeted student populations throughout the year. For information on KSC's diversity programs, visit http://odeo.ksc.nasa.gov or go to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of and for Employees (DICE) website at http://dice.ksc.nasa.gov.

Linda Herridge
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center