By Matina Douzenis
NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center
Meeting members of the Artemis generation often inspires NASA’s workforce as much as it encourages the students themselves. For one recent group of students, a visit to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida brought mentorship, new experiences, and inspiration for answering the profound questions of our universe.
The 22 students traveled to the world’s preeminent spaceport on Nov. 14 for the 21st annual Disability Mentoring Day hosted at Kennedy by the Disability Awareness and Action Working Group (DAAWG). Students were paired with a mentor based on interests spanning communication to engineering. Mentors shared experiences and insight on their path to NASA and provided learning opportunities to students hoping to kickstart their career development.
“As a first-year mentor, it’s hard to capture the spirit of Disability Mentoring Day with words,” said NASA Public Affairs Officer Danielle Sempsrott. “Seeing how excited these kids were to be here at Kennedy, learning what we do, was amazing. One of the students asked us to keep them in mind for any job openings in the future. It’s really cool knowing we made them feel welcome and maybe sparked an interest that may not have been there before.”
At Kennedy, teams of diverse people collaborate to do groundbreaking work across a wide range of programs. Event organizers hope that mentoring day will inspire the Artemis generation, who are still in school today, to enter the NASA orbit in any number of career fields.
“When I was a young kid, I didn’t have this opportunity to participate in any disability mentoring day,” said DAAWG Co-Chair Nicole Delvesco and NASA cost accountant who has a cochlear implant. “If I had, I know I would have felt better about myself, would have had a lot more confidence to achieve a lot more than I already have.”
The mentoring day is just one activity that helps further NASA Kennedy’s diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion goals. DAAWG also serves as an advocate for the center’s employees with disabilities and disabled veterans, advises the Center Director on matters relating to employees with disabilities, and serves as a resource to the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity and other directorates.
Other programs like National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which occurs every October, celebrates the accomplishments and achievements of all individuals with disabilities. The U.S. Congress created the observance in 1988 to raise awareness of disability employment needs and to celebrate the many and varied contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities.
“It is important for people to learn about different disabilities – hidden or visible,” said Paul Spann, the Disability Mentoring Day event lead who is a NASA accountant with a cochlear implant. “Most individuals with disabilities that I know will work harder to show their capabilities and always look for ways to prove themselves – I personally have had to do this throughout my career to remove doubts from people. It’s important that everyone understand how to focus on the strengths of individuals with disabilities in the workplace.”