Kettering graduate found her calling at NASA
A desire to find a more hands-on educational experience led Rebecca Junell to Kettering University. Kettering’s unique co-op and experiential learning culture led Junell to NASA.
Rebecca Junell is a mechanical/test engineer at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in south Mississippi. She began her college career studying physics at Miami Dade College in Miami. However, she quickly realized the theoretical approach to the subject was not for her.
“I wanted to practice more,” she said.
An uncle intervened, drawing Junell back to her native state of Michigan to study mechanical engineering at Kettering University in Flint.
“I love the visualization aspect of physics, the application, which mechanical engineering allows me to express,” she said. “To me, mechanical engineering is really the application of physics.”
Kettering employs a cooperative and experiential approach to offer students both classroom and field training.
“The great thing about a co-op school is you can see the applications of what you are learning and will learn, sparking further interest in both school and career,” Junell said.
In addition to finding the right career path for her, Junell also met her future husband, Justin, at Kettering. He was studying applied physics, and serving his co-op time at Stennis Space Center.
“I used to visit Justin at Stennis between work and class sessions and would have a chance to watch from the back of the control room as engine tests were conducted,” Junell recounted. “The noise and feel of the engines firing were awesome, and seeing a snapshot of the behind-the-scenes work in the control room fed a further desire to learn about the testing environment."
After graduation, Junell headed to Stennis to join her then-fiance, now husband, who was working full-time for NASA. The husband and wife both work in the Systems Analysis and Modeling Office of the Stennis Engineering & Test Directorate.
Junell initially worked for Jacobs Technology at Stennis, joining the NASA team in August 2009. Since that time, she has focused on carving out a specialty niche of 3-D modeling and test data review. The work makes for some long hours of poring over test data and thermal/ structural models, but Junell finds it affirming.
“I feel like I’m doing something useful,” Junell explained. “It is hard work, but it is nice contributing to something. And a great thing about working here is I use my education. My degree is in mechanical engineering, and I really use that here. We work with structures at Stennis that are exposed to the extremes of supercold cryogenic rocket fuels as well as fiery engine plumes and flows from a trickle to a torrent. We are given the freedom to analyze situations that stretch our knowledge of engineering beyond what I have seen at other workplaces.”
With her family in Michigan and her husband’s family in Texas, Junell has found a place within the Stennis community. “The people we’re most tied to every day are the people we work with,” she explained. “And it’s a great group to be a part of.”
It is natural for such a technically-oriented group to feel like family. Junell’s mother, who always emphasized education to her kids, worked in a computer-based field. Her father has a manufacturing career, and her stepfather worked for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab in Miami. Her sister and brother are in physics and nautical engineering fields.
“All of that (influence) got me interested and focused,” Junell said. “My whole life has had a manufacturing, problem-solving background.”
Information about Stennis.
Contact: Patrick Hayes