Women in STEM Wednesday: College Dropout Turned Distinguished NASA Scientist

Dr. Renee Horton is this week's inspiring Women in STEM Wednesday! I met Renee when we filmed with her at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility. Today, she is the Lead Metallic and Weld Engineer for the core stage of NASA's next big rocket, the Space Launch System.

In addition to overseeing a crucial aspect to NASA's journey to Mars, Renee has a long list of accolades including the NASA Space Flight Awareness Award, three separate Group Achievement NASA Awards, and the Black Engineer of the Year Trailblazer Award.

This PhD-carrying successful NASA scientist didn't always see herself as someone who could achieve so much.  

Growing up, Renee had a hearing impairment that went undiagnosed until she was 17 years old. This affected her ability to learn, and in elementary school she was classified as a special needs child. Her hearing became such an obstacle that she decided to drop out of college, where she was pursuing a degree in Electrical Engineering.

Renee made the decision to instead, focus on starting a family. However, after her third child, she realized that she needed to return to college to pursue a passion that she had since she was young - science.

She attended Louisiana State University to finish her Electrical Engineering bachelors degree and then continued on to the University of Alabama where she ultimately obtained a PhD in Material Science with a concentration in Physics.

Renee is a great role model for anyone who has had to overcome an obstacle to pursue their dream. Her story proves that it's never too late to change your life and go after what you want. All around, she's a pretty incredible human being who I was lucky enough to meet! I was able to pose a few questions to her, which you can check out below:


1) What's most exciting about the work you are currently doing at NASA?

I am blessed to be working at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) during such an exciting time in our nation’s history. We are setting the stage at MAF for building the world’s most powerful rocket that will send astronauts further than they’ve ever been before in space. To think I have a small part in such a monumental moment is truly humbling.  The most exciting part of my job is each and every day I walk through a factory where history is being made. The most exciting work I am currently doing at NASA? The Vertical Assembly Center (VAC) activation is the most exciting work I am currently doing.  It is the largest circumferential welder in the world standing 170ft tall.  It’s amazing being part of this project.


2) Did you always like STEM growing up?

I have always loved STEM growing up.  When playing games with my siblings I would always pretend I was a scientist.


3) What were some of the obstacles you encountered on your way to getting where you are today?

 I learned at 17 that I had a hearing impairment that on hindsight I realize was possibly the underlying reason for my speech impediment.  The diagnosis of my hearing impairment changed what I had dreamed of doing with my life and I allowed it to become an obstacle instead of dealing with it.  I allowed my frustration of not being able to become an astronaut cause me to leave college.  I was unsure that I could compete so I didn’t compete. How did you overcome them? I decided after having my children that I no longer wanted to be held captive by something that could be overcome with the proper accommodations.


4) What's your favorite hobby?

 I enjoy photography, writing poetry and working out in the gym.


5) What fun quality of STEM do you think would surprise most students?

 I believe the open access to the world would surprise most students.  In pursuing a STEM career I have traveled all over the world, met and worked with others in STEM careers from all over the world. 


6) What advice would you give to younger students who would like to follow in your path?

I would want them to follow what truly makes them happy, not to follow what others think would make them happy.  When you are happy you are more productive in life.


Thanks to Dr. Renee Horton for being my Women in STEM Wednesday! If you liked this, check out my other Women in STEM Wonder Women below. 


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