Child Genius Enters College at 12, Plans to Become a Space Engineer

Child Genius Enters College at 12, Plans to Become a Space Engineer

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12-year-old genius Alena Wicker aims for the stars, planning to become the youngest black female to ever work for NASA. She’s just graduated from high school and will attend virtual classes at Arizona State University this semester. There, she will double major in astronomical/planetary science and chemistry to reach her goal of becoming a space engineer. She’s dreamed of working for NASA since childhood and hopes to become an engineer by her 16th birthday.

She originally wanted to pursue astronomy, but her passion for building things led her to the engineering field. Alena hopes that one day, she’ll get to build a space rover like the ones sent to Mars. She’s confident that her dreams will become reality, telling ABC News she’ll be driving one before graduating college.

The aspiring engineer from Texas loved designing and building things even as a child. Like most young kids, Alena enjoyed playing with Legos, but she took her creations pretty seriously. She built elaborate structures such as the Taj Mahal, the Disney castle, a NASA rocket, and the Apollo 11. She even made a Lego replica of the Millennium Falcon.

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Alena said the following on ABC’s Good Morning America:

“Ever since I was 4, I loved playing around with different types of Legos.”

The popular childhood pastime helped her channel her passion for engineering. As Alena’s mom, Daphne McQuarter, watched her daughter create these masterpieces, she realized she had a genius on her hands.

“She would organize the Legos by color, by size,” McQuarter recalled of Alena. “She was always strategic with her Legos, and if you messed up her Legos, it was a whole problem. If you took one of her Legos out of the little set, she knew that one of her Legos were missing.”

As an avid Star Wars fan, Alena said the Millennium Falcon was probably her favorite build so far. She spent 14 to 15 hours over two days completing the design, barely even taking breaks to sleep.

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From Legos to space ships, Alena’s ambition is out of this world

Seeing Alena’s visions come to life as she designs them motivates the child genius to follow her dreams. However, despite her excitement about her future, she can’t help but notice the glaring disparities in STEM fields. She observed that women and people of color are largely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. Wanting to bring awareness to the racial and gender inequalities somehow, she launched her own website.

Called the Brown Stem Girl (BSG), the site provides support and education for women of color interested in STEM careers. According to the Pew Research Center, women actually make up half of the U.S. workers in STEM jobs. However, most of them hold healthcare positions; few women or people of color work in fields like engineering or computer jobs.

The research also discovered that Black people only represent 9% of STEM workers, while Hispanic people make up 7%.

Alena told her mom, “I want to create this culture of Brown girls in STEM, because it’s this whole gap, and I just want to do something.”

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Alena created the whole business plan for the website by herself. Of course, she knew she’d need help getting the project off the ground. She took matters into her own hands, contacting graphic designers, public relations managers, and more.

“She actually did all the legwork, not me. I just kind of sat in the background, and I got the fun part of writing the checks,” McQuarter said jokingly.

The child genius has other projects in the works, too

When Alena isn’t busy with college courses, BSG, or building things, she’s learning Spanish and Arabic. She and her mom love to experience the world through traveling and exploring different cultures. Alena even lived abroad in Amman, Jordan for a short time while attending school.

She’s also working on a children’s book called “Brainiac World.” Growing up, kids used to tease her about her intelligence, calling her “brainiac.” So, she decided to turn her childhood nickname into something inspiring and positive instead.

In addition to the book, she’s also got a podcast in the works, planning to release the first episode soon. Alena says the podcast will encourage girls in STEM by bringing other women in STEM on the show. They can provide valuable information and answer any questions the girls may have. Alena hopes to have Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black female astronaut in history, as one of her guests.

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