FAMU alumna Dr. Camille Wardrop Alleyne inspires youth to aim for the stars
As a child in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, circa the 1970’s, FAMU alumna Dr. Camille Wardrop Alleyne would gaze up at the stars and wonder about the boundaries of our universe. She would watch The Jetsons and Star Trek. She’d disassemble and reassemble and fix anything around the house that would mold her skills and prepare her for engineering.
Fast-forward to 1992, and Dr. Alleyne had left Trinidad, having earned her Bachelor of Science at Howard University and was graduating with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. Following this, Dr. Alleyne landed a dream job as a Flight System Test Engineer at NASA Kennedy Space Center. In this role, Dr. Alleyne tested the payload systems that flew on board the Space Shuttle. Two years later, she attended the University of Maryland for a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering. After her time at the University of Maryland, Alleyne served as an aerospace systems engineer for the US Department of Defense. She then rejoined NASA as a lead systems engineer for the Constellation program. She continued as Crew Module Systems Engineer and Test Manager for the Orion program, the next generation of human space transport. Alleyne has also served as an Assistant Program Scientist for the International Space Station.
In addition to her work with NASA, Alleyne earned a doctorate from the University of Houston in 2013. Her doctoral thesis compared all-girls schools and their success in motivating girls to pursue careers in the STEM fields.
Now the Associate Program Scientist for the International Space Station, Dr. Alleyne is responsible for the communication strategies used to explain research conducted aboard the ISS to stakeholders such as US Congress and the general public; as one of the more visible faces of NASA she is responsible for telling stakeholders why this research is important. One effective way of doing so is storytelling; Alleyne explains “So our team of communicators write stories about the science conducted on board the ISS, in a way people relate to. We then use a variety of mass and social media platforms to disseminate the stories.”
Alleyne has come a long way since dreaming about outer space as a little girl, having not only built a career with NASA, but also earned several accolades for her work. The NASA Johnson Space Center Director, for example, awarded her with a Commendation for her contributions to the agency. Other awards from NASA include a NASA Group Achievement Award for the ISS Benefits for Humanity Task Team in 2013, Certificate of Appreciation for the Transformation of the International Space Station to 6-person Crew Capabilities in 2009, the NASA Group Achievement Award for Constellation Requirements Development Team in 2007, and the NASA Group Achievement Award for Exploration Systems Architecture Study in 2006. Alleyne was also a finalist in NASA’s 2004 Astronaut Selection Program.
Although she has so many accolades and achievements to her name, Dr. Alleyne takes the most pride in being named a Caribbean Woman Icon in Science and Technology by the National Institute for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology in Trinidad and Tobago. She was awarded this honor because of the inspiration her work provides to youth. “Being a role model for so many young people around the world is a privilege and something I am very humbled by,” Alleyne shares.
It’s not just that young people can hear and read about Alleyne’s work, but her goal is to truly reach out and inspire them. She especially hopes to inspire more young women—particularly those in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America—to seek careers in the STEM fields. To make this vision a reality, Alleyne started her very own organization in 2007, called The Brightest Stars Foundation. One of the goals of the foundation is to build schools for girls to pursue the STEM fields, the first of which is being built in Kenya.
“I have enjoyed seeing young women find their voice and their gifts and pursue careers and professions they never thought they could ever be a part of,” Dr. Alleyne comments on her foundation. She adds, “Having the opportunity to influence the trajectory of people’s lives in a positive way is an absolute honor and a privilege.”
Not only does Dr. Alleyne influence youth through her work and foundation, but she spends time—traveling around the world—speaking to both girls and boys about their potential to follow their goals and dreams. Indeed, she was a keynote speaker at the 2011 Caribbean Youth Forum in Trinidad and Tobago, and took the opportunity to not only speak to a group of young people, but also connect them to the International Space Station for a conversation with the astronauts on board.
Despite everything she’s accomplished, Dr. Alleyne maintains a down-to-earth perspective regarding her work and enjoys sharing what she discovers with everyone with whom she crosses paths. She notes that every new discovery—from space station research that led to a candidate treatment for Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, to the recent discovery of a possible super Earth at the edge of our solar system—leads us closer to a more complete understanding of the universe and ourselves.
So what’s the secret to working toward your own goals and discoveries like Dr. Alleyne? She reveals that “there is no substitute for hard work, determination, perseverance, tenacity and, excellence. Excellence is the one thing that gets people’s attention. It transcends race, ethnicity, and gender. But even more than that, there is no substitute for believing in yourself.”
Sounds like advice that when followed, might take us to the stars.