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Mallory Jennings with WSU President Don Beggs in 2010. That spring Jennings received the Cooperative Education and Internship Association's Cooperative Education Student Achievement Award.

Mallory Jennings: 'WSU helped me get to NASA'

Wednesday, February 01, 2012 | Share
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Not many people can say they’re doing now what they dreamed of as a young child.

Mallory Jennings always wanted to work at NASA, a desire that only grew stronger when she moved to Houston in the first grade.

She lived in awe of all things related to space and never once steered from that course, doing everything she could to reach her goal, including getting her pilot’s license at age 17.

In 2010, Jennings earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Wichita State University. Because of her years of hard work both in and out of the classroom, she was offered a full-time job at NASA before she even graduated.

Now Jennings is a space suit engineer, working on technologies that will be used in future NASA missions, such as going back to the Moon or even to Mars. She also works in education and public outreach.

All this at the ripe age of 25.

Although Jennings started on her career mission early, she said she wouldn’t be where she is today without the opportunities afforded to her at Wichita State.

“It solidified my dream and taught me what I want to do,” she said. “WSU helped me get to NASA.”

Getting her foot in the door

Jennings said she considered going to another university, such as Texas A&M or the Air Force Academy, but she chose Wichita State because of its Cooperative Education and Work-Based Learning program, the engineering school’s reputation, the faculty’s desire to help her realize her dream, and the university’s strong relationship with NASA.

Jennings also works in the same department as 2007 WSU graduate Alex Kanelakos. Watch a video about his experience at WSU and how that got him to NASA.

“Co-op is the best way to get your foot in the door at NASA,” Jennings said.

Jennings worked as a co-op student at Johnson Space Center for five semesters. She also served as one of NASA’s educational outreach presenters, helping to organize more than 50 outreach events and speaking to more than 4,500 people about NASA and the work being done at Johnson Space Center. And she continued her outreach at local elementary and middle schools once back in Wichita.

Urban advantage

Jennings said her one recommendation to any incoming or current WSU student would be to get on-the-job experience before graduation.

She can’t imagine having gone through college, wanting a job and a career after graduation, and not having used co-op’s services or found some way to get a job or internship in her field.

Jennings said she learned a lot in class, but to reach her goal, she needed the real-life experience that an internship provides, such as learning practical on-the-job training, communication skills and office professionalism.

She said she also became a better student because of her experiences interning with NASA, and she was able to translate some of her knowledge to her fellow classmates. In turn, those students who worked in Wichita gave her their perspective, not just the one she was getting working outside of Wichita at a large organization.

Jennings also points to the urban location of WSU as a benefit to herself and other students.

Wichita isn’t a typical college town. It has the advantage of having a strong aviation, engineering and entrepreneurial base. Many of Wichita State’s teachers have worked in the industry and have close ties to many local businesses.

“We’ve got so many resources to pull from because we’re in Wichita,” she said. “I don’t think I could get that anywhere else.”

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Created on Wednesday, February 01, 2012; Last modified on Tuesday, February 21, 2012