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NASA Engineer Named in Forbes 30 Under 30 List of Innovators

Kenneth Harris II, a senior engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has been named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 Class of 2020.

Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list is a selection of young, creative and bold minds the magazine’s experts consider revolutionaries, changing the course of business and society. Forbes evaluated more than 20,000 nominees to decide on 600 business and industry figures, with 30 selected in each of 20 industries.

Man in protective gear works on technology
Kenneth Harris II works in the clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Credits: NASA Goddard/Chris Gunn

“As I reflect on my story, beginning in 2008, I am truly grateful for both the successes and failures,” Harris said. “Receiving this award, I would be remiss to ignore the infinite amount of guidance I’ve received along this journey. Each mentor played a pivotal role in my career to present day.”

“As engineers and scientists it is my belief that we have the responsibility to make ourselves open to the unexpected. Allowing our curiosity to fuel thoughtful questions and impactful research, that will enable the next generation of explorers to go even further than us. I am humbled to be acknowledged by Forbes and hope that this award serves as a confirmation to someone relentlessly pursuing their goals.” 

Harris, 27, lives in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Forbes selected him in the Science category for his work on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope mission. He has worked on five different satellite missions since he started working at NASA at age 16, including the Magnetic Multiscale Mission or MMS satellite and the Global Precipitation Measurement mission (GPM) satellite, a joint mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Kenny also worked on the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) J1 and J2 missions, a joint project between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

man in suit standing by window grid
Kenneth Harris II
Credits: NASA Goddard/Taylor Mickal

In 2017, he led a team to successfully integrate the Integrated Science Instrument Module, the main science component of the Webb Telescope. This structure houses four instruments that will detect the light from stars billions of light-years away. “This mission holds such a special place in my heart because I was only 24 years old when we completed the ISIM integration,” Harris said.

At 16 years old, Harris volunteered as a counselor at a NASA Goddard space camp. He then served as an intern in the High School Internship Program, beginning his affiliation with NASA. This initial internship was the beginning of semester long immersion in NASA projects and culture.

In addition to his work as an engineer, Harris is a strong proponent of education in STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math). A product of the Prince Georges County School system, he hopes to give back to his community by making himself available to students considering STEM careers. He is also an ambassador with the NASA education department and looks to use his growing platform as a launchpad to reach students globally.

“Social media is a huge vehicle I use to drive my involvement in STEM,” Harris said. “I feel it is one of the most efficient ways to reach the next generation. My vision for the future is to continually use my platform to elevate the need for the next generation of STEM students and ultimately what each of us can do to help them be successful.”

In April 2018, Harris gave a TED Talk called “The Power of Mentorship (at NASA and Beyond).” You can see that talk at:

By Rob Gutro

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.