Actually, It IS Rocket Science

Bound for NASA, Jasmine Gaston '19M launches the next phase of her career.

By Tricia Vance

For much of her life, Jasmine Gaston ’19M has been an outlier. She was the only woman in most of her undergraduate engineering classes. The only Black woman in her mechanical engineering graduating class. The only Black engineer at the company she worked for after earning her undergraduate degree.

“There is value in being unique, but sometimes it’s hard,” said Gaston. “There is a huge need for minorities and women within STEM fields, not just to fill the increasing number of roles, but to improve the quality of the work. Diversity is crucial to the evolution of science and technology. Just as all possibilities are considered when solving a problem, all perspectives need to be involved to ensure the best outcome.”

In December 2020, Gaston, who directed UNCW’s youth engineering programs, took her unique perspective to NASA, where she is an aerospace engineer in the Propulsion Systems Division in Huntsville, Alabama. Her new role entails working on engine systems for NASA’s commercial crew program, which partners with companies such as SpaceX to develop safe, cost-effective flights to and from the International Space Station.

As a child, Gaston said she loved math, logic puzzles and brainteasers. By sixth grade, she was taking high school math courses and, later, physics. When it came time to apply for college, she chose mechanical engineering – a field well-suited to problem solvers – at North Carolina State University.

“Engineering applied my interests and challenged my curiosity for innovation,” she said. While in college, she found joy working with children and teens through the National Society of Black Engineers. Graduation in 2014 led to a job with a manufacturing company. Two years later, Gaston came to UNCW, where she began coordinating K-12 engineering programs and worked to earn an M.S. in Mathematics. Among the programs she created was Rocket Girls, an all-female summer camp exploring aerospace topics.

“My favorite part of this job was seeing the students’ excitement while they were working on the engineering design challenges. Students had so much fun at our programs that they would return each month for our series and multiple weeks during the summer.”

As for her next frontier, Gaston is content to keep her feet on Earth as she supports NASA’s missions. “This is a dream job that aligns with my background and aspirations,” she said. “I’m looking forward to helping support space exploration, and NASA is committed to educational outreach, so I know I’ll still be able to be involved in similar youth programs. I am beyond excited.”

Read more in the Winter 2021 issue of UNCW Magazine