Christina Deoja Engineers with Creativity at NASA!
“I have always believed that a good engineer is a creative engineer.”
At Tynker, we believe in inspiring the next generation of innovators, scientists, and makers. This month, with Mother’s Day coming up, we’re excited to celebrate mothers in STEM! We often hear how STEAM–science, technology, engineering, arts, and math–should be taught together so that students learn how to combine STEM skills with art and design principles. Christina Deoja, an electrical engineer at NASA, is a perfect example of someone who brings together her artistic and scientific training to drive innovation! The daughter of a florist/cake decorator and an engineer, Deoja grew up doing crafts with her mother and learning calculus from her father. Today, Deoja designs solutions as she works in the Propulsion and Power Division at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. In addition to being an engineer, Deoja is also a mom and mentors other young people as they decide on their life paths. Through her training and work experience, Deoja has developed a thoughtful perspective on how parents and educators can help young people grow key 21st century skills. Read on to learn more!
Growing up in Texas, Deoja was exposed to NASA and space exploration at a young age and often watched mission launches on TV. Inside her grew a passion to one day be an astronaut herself! NASA programs for youth helped her achieve her dream. She participated in the NASA High School Aerospace Scholars (HAS) program while in high school, and after graduating with her degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at Dallas, she joined NASA as an intern. Now she works on exciting space exploration projects like the Morpheus Lander and the Orion spacecraft!
As NASA prepares to help humans get to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, we will need to have spacecraft that can successfully land on a variety of surfaces. That’s why NASA uses the Morpheus Lander to test the ability of spacecraft to land on different surfaces. Deoja was the wiring subsystem lead for the Morpheus Lander project. One of her big accomplishments was to help the lander complete 13 successful free flights! She is currently working on multiple test and development projects that contribute to the International Space Station and Orion spacecraft. As she explained in an interview at the 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration, “[E]verything on the spacecraft is going to need power. When we talk about going to Mars, that’s a long-duration mission. And power is something that you have to budget for…It’s a challenge, but together as a team, I believe that we’ll meet that goal and deliver a power system that will take us to Mars.”
In addition to her contributions to space exploration, Deoja is an inspiring mother and mentor who regularly helps young people learn about STEM careers at NASA. We had the opportunity to speak with her about how parents can better empower kids and set them up for future success, especially as success relates to developing creativity and STEM skills. When we asked Deoja how educators and parents can create and nurture an interest in STEM in young people, she shared her belief that kids need space and time to create: “Have kids observe their environment. [I]t’s important in today’s world where technology is so ingrained in everyday living to plan for creative free time, where kids are free to let their mind completely wander. Maybe going outside or getting hands-on with activities such as doing a craft.” In an educational system where art classes become electives, Deoja told us, “[I]t’s important for parents to encourage and always maintain an outlet for creativity for their kids. Could be having them pick up a hobby (painting, photography, etc.). There are local community workshops today where you can go use tools and tinker with things.” It’s exactly this kind of do-it-yourself approach to projects that can lead to great innovations and technology! Being creative can help kids learn how to become makers of technology, not just consumers.
When kids are engaged in technology, it’s important that they’re engaging in activities that not only help them express their creativity but also allow them to develop key 21st century skills like critical thinking and problem-solving. One of those activities is learning to code, as Deoja explains: “[I] 100% support kids learning to code early. It helps them learn logic, think critically, and most importantly learn to observe a problem, analyze it and determine a course of action before tackling it.”
Deoja also discussed how it’s important when mentoring–whether the young adult is your child or a student–to help them find their own path, even if that path is different from your own. Of mentoring her daughter, she said, “She is entirely different than me! My goal is to do the best I can to encourage her and help her find her lane and improve her craft.”
Tynker salutes women like Christina Deoja who are making significant contributions to STEM fields while also being inspiring mothers and mentors!
Image photo credit, Women@NASA blog content, and What is Orion? article content are courtesy of NASA.
Read our previous Women in STEM post about Mitchell Baker, who explains why the humanities are critical in the process of technological innovation!