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‘I want to empower, enable and prepare the next generation’ | 27-year-old NASA Engineer shares his story

Kenneth Harris, II is a Senior Engineer with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. He was recently honored on the Forbes 30 under 30, Class of 2020.

Kenneth Harris, II is a Senior Engineer with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and was recently honored as a member of the Forbes 30 under 30, Class of 2020.

Harris is a second-generation Engineer who followed in the footsteps of his father.

He coins his father as one of his top role models, who has been an engineer at NASA for over 30 years.

“My Dad was the reason my interest peaked,” Harris said. “He was a huge figure in my life.”

He acknowledges his father as one of the main reasons he decided to become involved in Engineering.

“I would come with him after school even at a young age,” he said. “I was engrained in Engineering when I was younger and now, I have a passion and a love for the field.”

Credit: Kenneth Harris / Taylor Mickal

Harris says he’s been working on projects with NASA Goddard since the age of 16.

“I got into an internship program pretty early on,” Harris said.

He attributes much of his success to both his mother and father.

“(My mother) always told me to be intentional in everything I do, to give it your full effort and your whole heart,” Harris said.

Although Harris now works with NASA, it wasn’t exactly what he had planned to do from the very beginning.

“I wanted to initially become a Marine Biologist and it’s kind of spun off into space somewhere,” he said.

Harris has worked on a total of five different satellite missions with NASA. He dreams of inspiring the next generation and prides himself on mentorship.

“I have a bunch of mentors and my Dad is surely like my first and greatest mentor,” he said.

The 27-year-old Engineer says he wants to leave a legacy by not only increasing the representation of African Americans who work in STEM, but he wants it to be “common” to see African Americans and minorities working in the field.

Credit: Kenneth Harris / Taylor Mickal

“I want these young boys and girls to be able to look up and see someone who looks like them, and to see someone they aspire to be like,” he said. “You don’t have to be in the classroom setting to have a mentor or have a mentor-mentee relationship.”

He gave credit to the late Katherine Johnson who passed away at the age of 101, last Monday as one of his influential figures.

Johnson was one of a group of black women who were mathematicians at NASA that were celebrated in the 2016 hit movie, “Hidden Figures”.

“People like her paved the way for a number of people,” Harris said.

Harris aims to give back to others and to leave a lasting impact for a time to come.

“I want to be remembered not for what I did to elevate myself and to elevate my own platform, but I want to empower, enable and prepare the next generation for what they need to accomplish,” Harris said. “Whether it’s man, woman, black, white, I want to be remembered for empowering this next generation to step forward and take on the task of my generation but on a higher level.”


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