Meet Wendy Okolo, NASA’s ‘most promising engineer’

Nigerians keep proving to the world that they are capable of reaching any height, and that there is no field of knowledge too sophisticated for them to excel in – including rocket science!

Wendy Okolo, an aerospace engineer at NASA Ames Research Center, has been conferred with the ‘2019 Most Promising Engineer in Government Award’ at the BEYA (Black Engineer of the Year Awards) STEM Conference in Washington D. C.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, 30-year-old Dr Okolo is a Special Emphasis Programmes Manager in the Intelligent Systems Division at Ames.

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NASA boldly announced on Twitter @NASA Ames: “A @NASAAmes researcher who is developing techniques for improving the manoeuvrability of spacecraft during entry, descent and landing has received Black Engineer’s Most Promising Engineer in Government Award! Congrats to Wendy Okolo on your award.”

Okolo is currently working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, and is the special emphasis programs manager at Ames Research Center and a research engineer in the Discovery and Systems Health Technology (DaSH) Area.

Says NASA: “Okolo is working on the System-Wide Safety (SWS) project and a Space Technology Mission Directorate Early Career Initiative (STMD-ECI) project at Ames. For the SWS project, she led the task of predicting GPS faults in unmanned aerial systems commonly known as drones.

“On the STMD-ECI project, she leads the controls team to develop unconventional control techniques for deployable vehicles, to enable precision landing and improve maneuverability during the entry, descent, and landing phases of spaceflight.

“The STMD-ECI project is a $2.5 million-dollar project that she proposed and won as part of a six-member early-career scientist team.

“Her previous research has been recognized and funded by the Department of Defense through the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship; Zonta International, through the Amelia Earhart Fellowship; and the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics through the John Leland Atwood Graduate Fellowship.”

Wendy OkoloWendy obtained her secondary school education from Queen’s College, Lagos and went on to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas in 2010.

During her undergraduate years, she was the president of the Society of Women Engineers at the University.

She was only 26 years old when she became the first black woman to obtain a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the same university in 2015.

Wendy Okolo started her career as an intern for Lockheed Martin working on NASA’s Orion spacecraft. She worked first in the Requirements Management Office in Systems Engineering during her first summer internship, then she worked with the Hatch Mechanisms team in Mechanical Engineering.

While she was a graduate student between 2010 and 2012, she worked in the Control Design & Analysis Branch of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

She worked with Langley Research Center in Virginia to investigate flight data and facilitate data exchange across and within NASA centers.

Dr Okolo already has 13 publications in aircraft engineering and speaks four different languages.

Okolo says her sisters taught her the sciences with their day-to-day realities. She describes them as her heroes.