College At 16, NASA Career, & Reality TV: Moogega Cooper Is A Nerd And Proud of It
You know we love to bring you “first’s” in this “Behind the Click” profile series. We’ve had our first Canadian, first veteran and now… our first TV celebrity. Hands up if you’ve caught TBS’s King of the Nerds! Either way, we’ve got the interview with the only African-American woman on this reality competition, which is gaining speed.
Moogega Cooper just may change your idea of how a “nerd” should look and think. While she may have gone to college at 16 and then worked at NASA as a Planetary Projection Engineer, there is much more than meets the tech eye. We’ve got the inside scoop. Read on to see how this dynamic woman is breaking boundaries and making moves representin’ for the browner, female side of the technorati.
Current Occupation: Planetary Projection Engineer
Favorite Website: xkcd.com “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”
Favorite Read: It’s not really a book for reading, but I carry around the Diabolical KenKen book everywhere I go!
Recent Read: Eat and Run, Scott Jurek
2013′s Ultimate Goal: My ultimate goal for this year is to have a funded proposal where I am the PI (principal investigator)!
Madame Noire: So, you are from Pasadena! What was it like growing up there? Where did you attend college/grad school?
Moogega Cooper: You know, I say Pasadena is my hometown but I actually grew up in Beverly, New Jersey until I was 11 when we moved to Hampton, VA. I was pretty sheltered growing up so I spent most of my time playing with my siblings or by myself. I attended college at Hampton University where I majored in Physics and minored in Space, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences. The program was beyond amazing and that is where I learned my first programming language and worked with real NASA satellite data at 16 years of age. I have so many people to thank at Hampton who significantly contributed to where I am today (Including my main mentor, Dr. James Russell III).
MN: Hurray for Hampton and mentors! But then you even went on to get a PhD. What did you receive your Master’s and PhD in exactly? How did you have such clarity to achieve that by 24?
MC: I received my Master’s and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Thermal Fluid Sciences. I was certain while performing the last two years of my co-op experience at NASA Langley, I was going to study Plasma (the fourth state of matter, not the component in your blood, although Langmuir was inspired by blood plasma when he coined the name to describe this electrical discharge).
MN: Understood. When did you first begin to become interested in technology?
MC: I was always interested in technology, since I was a little girl and was my father’s main assistant when he would remodel parts of the house or performed electrical work. I then became interested in astrophysics after watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos in middle school. We’d rent another cassette each time we visited the public library. From then on, I knew I had to focus on math and science in order to achieve this goal. This is what I keep in mind when speaking to the next generation of explorers. When you have a prize you can affix your eye on, it helps when you feel tired or discouraged. Keep that eye on the prize!
MN: Very true. So from there, how did you obtain your position at NASA?
MC: I went through what is referred to as the “NASA Pipeline” where I participated in educational programs as an undergraduate (Co-Op program) through graduate school (NASA Harriet G. Jenkins Pre-Doctoral Fellowship) which allowed me to spend time at JPL where I was able to demonstrate my capabilities. This resulted in an offer as a Post-Doc upon completion of my Ph.D. After contributing more of my efforts and knowledge, I was hired as a full-time employee in 2011!