KIRKWOOD, Mo. – As a freshman at Kirkwood High School, Dajae Williams was mistakenly enrolled in an honors geometry class. The teacher who placed her there admitted it was an accident, but little did they both know that moment would change Dajae’s world.
Dajae has always been smart but never in her wildest dreams did she imagine she would one day work for the world’s leading organization in the study of aeronautics and space – NASA.
“Sometimes I still have to pinch myself.,” she said. “It’s always an exhilarating experience being around so many smart people, just being present, and taking it all in because there is so much to learn.”
Dajae played basketball for and attended Kirkwood High School then went on to become a student-athlete at Missouri S&T, one of the top engineering schools in the county. Just 26-years-old, she has had a lot of success in her life, but her path to NASA was met with leaps and hurdles.
Dajae was selected as a keynote speaker to share her story with the Science Teachers Association of Texas. In the 10-minute long video, she spoke openly and in-depth about her struggles as a minority student in a predominately white school district, a student-athlete, and life experiences that lead her to her position as a manufacturing engineer for NASA.
Like most young girls, being an engineer was not Dajae’s first career choice. In fact, she wanted to produce music.
“My mom convinced me to go into a STEM field,” she said. “She saw that I was getting good at math and science, so she was like, ‘Why don’t you explore this. There’s not a lot of women. There’s not a lot of black people in this field. See what you can do. See if you can make a change.'”
Dajae has been living in Los Angeles for the past three years as an employee with NASA. She works in the jet propulsion laboratory and was on the team that helped construct the ground support equipment for Sentinel-6, the first in a series of spacecraft that will launch on Saturday, Nov. 21 that will monitor our oceans.
Her advice for those who aspire to reach for the stars:
“Put yourself out there. Apply for things that you don’t think you qualify for. Take classes that you don’t think you’re smart enough for. It will take you further than you realize.”