12-Year-Old is Starting College, with Plans to be a NASA Engineer


A 12-year-old is starting her studies at Arizona State University, where she plans to major in astronomical and planetary sciences and chemistry.

Alena Wicker, of Arizona, completed high school this April through at-home schooling. Now she’s learning remotely at ASU. Her goal is to become a NASA engineer by the age of 16, where she hopes to employ her extraordinary skills to build rovers like the ones sent to Mars.

“I’ll be driving one of those future space mobiles by the time I graduate college,” she told ABC 7 News.

Alena’s mom told Good Morning America that her sights have been set on a career with the space agency since she was a little girl. “She would start saying, ‘I’m going to be the youngest Black girl to ever work for NASA – watch!’”



Alena’s early passion began with Lego, which she used to build intricate models of the Taj Mahal and the Disney Castle. Not surprisingly, she also built models of the Apollo 11 rover and a NASA rocket.

Even at 12, Alena sees the disparity in STEM opportunities for people of color and women. With that in mind, she wants to create social change alongside those future Mars rovers. She launched Brown Stem Girl to encourage others with similar interests to focus on fields from which they might have been excluded.

In addition to her career goals and projects, Alena is also taking her time to learn Spanish and Arabic. And on top of all that, she’s creating a children’s book titled “Brainiac World.” The word ‘brainiac’ is something kids teased her with when she was younger, and she says the book is her way of taking the word back and making it into something positive.



In their GMA interview, Alena and McQuarter hinted that NASA has already reached out to the 12-year-old, but also said that they can’t reveal too much.

Alena hopes to be an example to other girls, to not let the preconceived notions of others keep them from defining their own destinies.

“It doesn’t matter what your age or what you’re planning to do,” she told ABC7. “Go for it, dream, then accomplish it.”


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