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Where Are They Now?
Sparkman graduate leads in STEM at Marshall Space Flight Center
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Every day, Tawnya Plummer Laughinghouse helps the team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center push the boundaries in space. She started working at MSFC full-time 19 years ago — now she manages the Technology Demonstration Mission Program, which is the largest part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. However, that wasn’t always the plan for the Sparkman High School alumna — she once dreamed of being a doctor. “It wasn’t until, I think the end of my high school year that I discovered NASA and the SHARP program,” Laughinghouse said. “We took data, we presented that data at the end of the six-week program, and so it was an amazing experience in that I saw and worked with engineers that looked like me.” According to the Pew Research Center, Black and Hispanic adults are less likely to earn degrees in STEM than other fields. They also make up a lower share of STEM graduates by comparison. Laughinghouse says a NASA apprenticeship throughout her years in college showed her what was possible — and helped her aim for the stars through the NASA Women in Science and Engineering Scholarship Program. “It was a five-year dual degree program where you go to Spellman, pursue a natural science or math [and] computer science-type degree and you got to an approved engineering school, and do the final two years of an engineering degree,” she explained. “That just appealed to me so much.” With bachelor degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering, Laughinghouse is leading the way in the Technology Demonstration Mission Program. Most recently, she played a pivotal role in NASA’s low-Earth orbit flight test of an inflatable decelerator that launched in November 2022. That inflatable heat shield will be a crucial part in safely and successfully landing the first people on Mars. “Because it can be stowed very tightly that means you have more space for more critical high miss items if you’re going to Mars,” Laughinghouse continued. “You know
Dr. Karen Hayden Miga- Buckhorn HS (1996)
Dr. Karen Hayden Miga has been recognized by TIME magazine as one of 100 influential people in 2022. She co-led the group of international scientists in the recent work to complete the human genome. After graduating from Buckhorn High School, she graduated magna cum laude from the University of Tennessee, received her master's degree at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, and her Ph.D. at Duke. She and her family currently live in California where she is an Assistant Professor at the University of California Santa Cruz teaching Biomolecular Engineering. Read more about Karen Hayden Miga at this link. Photo Credit: Karen Miga Twitter
Caitlin Carver- Sparkman HS (2010)
Actress/Dancer: Read about Caitlin Carver at this link. Photo Credit: Caitlin Carver Instagram
Kyle Wright- Buckhorn HS (2014)
Professional Baseball Pitcher: Kyle Hardy Wright is an American professional baseball pitcher for the Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball. He played college baseball at Vanderbilt University. The Braves selected Wright with the fifth overall selection of the 2017 Major League Baseball draft. He made his major league debut in 2018. Read about Kyle Wright at this link. Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images