The North Carolina A&T legacy at prominent federal science agencies stretches back generations, and is perhaps best represented by the late Ronald McNair, Ph.D., a NASA astronaut, physicist and alumnus.
McNair perished in 1986 during the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger mission, but he continues to be a reference point today for the many Aggies who work with or are funded by NASA and other federal institutes.
One such Aggie is Joletta Patrick, a Greensboro native who earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at A&T. She began work in Houston at the Johnson Space Center shortly after graduation, working as a flight controller for the International Space station and as an engineer conducting time-phased power analysis.
Patrick later became manager of the Minority University Research and Education Project at NASA, a senior fellow at the White House Initiative on HBCUs and a spokesperson for the space agency’s commitment to STEM education. Along the way, she earned an MBA from the University of Maryland University College, where she is currently a doctoral candidate.
Other Aggies are making their mark in different ways. Tonya Smith-Jackson, Ph.D., chair and professor of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at A&T, is currently at the National Science Foundation as a program director for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate’s Division of Information and Intelligent Systems.
In this temporary assignment, scheduled to end in February 2019, Smith-Jackson is helping to advance research in cyber-human systems and human factors and providing leadership in the directorate, one of seven at NSF, which, with an annual budget of $7.5 billion, is one of the nation’s largest science agencies.
“I am humbled by the opportunity to serve my university and my country in this way,” Smith-Jackson said, adding that her work at NSF “has far reaching implications for North Carolina A&T Aggies. I hope to see more Aggies taking advantage of similar opportunities.”