“I did not know that NASA Langley was right here in my own backyard. I was born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia, and NASA Langley is in Hampton, about 45 minutes away. All throughout elementary school, I didn’t know that NASA was here. I always thought NASA was in Florida or Texas or somewhere.

“I was in this summer program [in eighth grade], learning physics at the university. I vividly remember we had a guest speaker. He was an African American mechanical engineer and he had on the blue flight suit. And he said he worked at NASA, and it just blew my mind.

“And at that point, I saw myself in him. I didn’t even know that NASA was here, so close to me, and I hadn’t seen anybody who had ever worked there. So that left a mark in my mind: ‘Wow, NASA is here.’

“… When I was in college, I came back to my high school to talk to a class about majoring in physics. And there was a student, maybe two years under me. I remember meeting her. I remember interacting. I remember talking with her just briefly at this career fair event.

“I found out years later that seeing me in high school and hearing my experience in college inspired her to major in physics, and so she became the first robotics director at her school. And now she’s a principal. And it just rocked me because I was just being me and trying to share. It seemed like I paid it forward the same way that NASA mechanical engineer made a mark on me.”

— Dr. Phillip Williams, Acting Center Chief Technologist, NASA’s Langley Research Center

Image Credit: NASA/Mark Knopp
Interviewer: NASA/Thalia Patrinos

Check out some of our other Faces of NASA. 

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