On Parsons Road, Donna dreamed of working for NASA – The Royal Gazette

Reaching for the Stars: Donna Mizell (second row, far right) at Victor Scott Elementary School in the 1970s (photo provided)

Inspired by a school trip to NASA’s Cooper’s Island tracking station, Donna Mizell decided to become an astronaut.

It was the 1970s. A boy who shared her dream called her “stupid” for thinking a girl could accomplish such a feat.

Meanwhile, their classmates at Victor Scott Elementary School mocked him, saying that no black man would ever fly in space.

However, Ms Mizell’s mother, Victorine Samuels, was fiercely supportive.

“I think she thought I could be Miss Bermuda,” said the 56-year-old, who never became an astronaut but joined NASA staff.

As a teenager, she changed her mind about becoming an astronaut.

She was working on Wall Street as a research analyst for Lehman Brothers when a recruiter for a public company approached her in the late 1990s.

“I interviewed and passed because the recruiter said we would like to offer you a job right away. Then he said, ‘Here at NASA, that’s what you would need TO DO”.

“I almost ruined the interview because I said, ‘I’m an accountant. I’m not a math and science person,” said Ms. Mizell, a certified paralegal with a bachelor’s degree in finance and a certificate in meeting management.

Donna Mizell at NASA’s 105th anniversary celebration this week. Elementary school alum Victor Scott offers free virtual Nasa tours to schools in Bermuda (photo provided)

Staff at Nasa Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., “analyze materials and structures to help spacecraft withstand unforgiving extraterrestrial environments.”

However, the recruiter assured Ms Mizell that there was a need for people in a wide range of fields.

She took the job and started out in finance, but is now in charge of event management at the conference and training center.

Every time she walks through the doors of NASA, she thinks of the little boy in her class to Victor Scott who didn’t trust her.

“I see [the logo] and I say: ‘Take this!’ “, did she say. “I’m not an astronaut, but I support the space mission.”

It is in this role that she hopes to offer virtual NASA tours to schools in Bermuda. All it needs is membership.

“It wouldn’t cost the school anything, because it’s part of our outreach,” she said.

As Training Manager, Ms. Mizell helps organize events for 100 to over 1,000 people.

Donna Mizell offers free virtual Nasa tours to schools in Bermuda (photo provided)

“They really believe in your work-life balance,” she said. “I can work at NASA Monday through Friday and then pursue my other interests on the weekends. We all tend to multitask.

“My first event was top secret in 2009. People came in big black SUVs. The dogs had to check the perimeter. No one could enter except those who were assigned.

Charles Bolden is one of the many astronauts she met during her time at Langley. Now retired, he has participated in four space shuttle missions and is a former NASA administrator.

Ms Mizell describes him as “a good man”.

“It would shock people to know that NASA people are normal. There is no Mr. and Mrs. So and so. We are on a first name basis.

No longer hiding: Bermudian Donna Mizell, right, with NASA mathematician and aeronautical engineer Christine Darden, who was featured in the book that inspired the film, hidden numbers (Photograph provided)

When the 2016 movie hidden numbers came out, Ms. Mizell was particularly eager to see it as she had gotten to know one of the women featured in the book who had inspired it.

Christine Darden, an American mathematician, data analyst and aeronautical engineer, devoted much of her 40-year career in aerodynamics at NASA to research into supersonic flight and sonic booms.

She received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019 and was inducted into the Langley Hall of Honor earlier this year.

“She’s such a wonderful, amazing woman,” said Ms Mizell, who returns to the island regularly. Her last trip home was three years ago.

To young Bermudians who dream of becoming astronauts, she encouraged, “Don’t give up. Remember where you come from and keep fighting. Keep pushing.

“Visiting Nasa all those years ago, who would have known that a little girl from Parsons Road would one day work for Nasa?”

Donna Mizell offers free virtual Nasa tours to schools in Bermuda (photo provided)

The fight would now be more difficult for anyone who is not an American citizen, Ms Mizell conceded.

“But when I came to Nasa, I was not a citizen. Back then, you could come in as a resident alien, but that has changed. I’m a US citizen now. But I didn’t never renounced my Bermudan citizenship.

For more information on virtual tours offered at NASA, contact Donna Mizell: [email protected]

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