An Out-of-This-World Experience

Share This:



SPS Chapters on Building Community

An Out-of-This-World Experience


Myles Pope, SPS Chapter President, and Prabhakar Misra, SPS Chapter Advisor, Howard University


Miles Phillips, an undergraduate mechanical engineering major at Howard who works in the Laser Spectroscopy Laboratory, demonstrates standoff Raman spectroscopy
for Jessica Watkins (right) during a lab tour. All photos credit NASA/Aubrey Gemignani.

Students and faculty at Howard University recently had an out-of-this-world experience when our SPS chapter hosted a visit from Jessica Watkins on March 31, 2023. She is the first Black woman to participate in an extended mission on the International Space Station (ISS) and a PhD geologist. This was a significant event all around, as it was our first meeting with Watkins and her first time visiting Howard University.

During her visit, Watkins gave a presentation about her journey to and experience aboard the ISS. She spoke about her path to becoming an astronaut, from her childhood to her undergraduate and graduate years and beginnings at NASA. She emphasized the importance of pursuing what you’re passionate about, even if that pursuit is against the norm. She then showed us a video about preparing for spaceflight and an extended mission aboard the ISS. The movie captivated the diverse audience, which included people from many different fields of study and levels of education.


Howard University SPS chapter advisor Prabhakar Misra (left) and department chair Quinton Williams (right) receive a montage on behalf of the department and Howard University from astronaut Jessica Watkins (center). The montage is a thank you from the ISS crew for the university’s efforts to support her visit.

Immediately following the presentation and a question-and-answer session, Watkins received service awards from the American Institute of Physics and Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics and astronomy honor society, and was inducted into the society. Then she presented a montage to Howard University on behalf of the ISS and its crew for supporting her visit.

During the remainder of her visit, Watkins toured many of the research laboratories at Howard—most tours were led by research students. We showed her STEM labs in the Interdisciplinary Research Building as well as labs in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. She viewed student demos in laser spectroscopy and saw an active, working environment in our computational physics lab.

This visit, one of the most memorable events our chapter hosted this year, was a truly historic one for our university and proved that there’s strength in pursuing science through your own unique lens.

The authors acknowledge the support of Quinton Williams and Karen Wright in organizing the event. For advertising and logistics, we thank Laurynette Griffin, Khouri Williams, Raul Garcia-Sanchez, Crawford Taylor, Dezerine Wallen, and Fred Kepner. We are grateful for funding provided by NASA M-STAR grant no. 80NSSC21M0301. 


More from this department

SPS Chapters on Building Community