ASU grad turns dream of exploring the universe into a reality

By

Kim Baptista

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Senior Jessica Maschino is about to graduate from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in exploration systems design from the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

She will be putting her knowledge to use this summer when she heads to Pasadena, California, for an internship working on the Mars Rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Growing up in Gilbert, Arizona, she didn’t have to go far from home for college, but she took all the opportunities ASU had to offer when making her decision.    

“When I first arrived at ASU, I was reserved and could have never imagined doing the things I've done. I've participated in Engineering Projects In Community Service (EPICS), founded my own LLC, pitched to angel investors in Silicon Valley, and competed in and placed eighth in the world in the SpaceX Hyperloop Competition II,” Maschino said. 

During her time at ASU, she has  worked on three NASA missions — Europa ClipperMars 2020, and Psyche. She was also in a commercial for ASU, and more recently she planned and co-hosted SpaceVision 2019, the world's largest student-led space conference.

“Jessica is really passionate about engineering and space exploration," said Cassie Bowman, associate research professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and co-investigator on the ASU-led NASA Psyche Mission. "Her enthusiasm inspires others to dream big!”

After her internship at JPL, Maschino plans to return to ASU to finish her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and plans to continue interning on the NASA Psyche Mission.

We caught up with Maschino and asked her about her time at ASU.  

Question: What was your “aha” moment? 

A: My "aha" moment first came to me when I was a sophomore in high school. I was fortunate that my high school counselor invited me to go to the “HERMANAS Conference” which is hosted by Intel and empowers minority women and encourages them to pursue degrees in STEM. It worked, and I pursued a degree in engineering/science at ASU. In my sophomore year, I decided to take an online class that focused on the Drake equation and finding habitable worlds outside of our own. I fell in love with the idea of exploring our universe and later that semester, Bill Nye gave a talk on campus in the Gammage Auditorium and said that there were jobs in space and that space exploration needs all types of people. That night I decided I would switch paths and committed to studying earth and space exploration.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I've learned many things at ASU, but the one that stands out to me most is that anybody can have an idea and start a business. I took a class centered around entrepreneurship and ended up founding my own start-up with a classmate. We became Prescott Fellows after coming out on top at the 2016 Demo Day pitching competition. We've been awarded close to $30,000 in seed funding, are working on filing a patent, and are working to get our product into the market. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose to go to ASU for several reasons. ASU provided me with a merit scholarship that paid for my tuition, had a wide range of engineering degrees for me to choose from, and if that wasn't enough, the Tempe campus was beautiful. I definitely made the right choice. Throughout my undergraduate journey, I've been able to find communities of people who are passionate about the same things I am. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A. My best piece of advice is to find things that make you uncomfortable — sending cold emails to a professor you want to research under, giving a speech, asking for help — and to find ways to force yourself to do them. These were all opportunities I was able to take part in because I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. You make the most progress when you're doing new things. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A. After graduation, I am going to be interning at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory working on developing training tools for the next generation of Mars rover drivers.