Today, she is Dr. Moogega “Moo” Cooper, the Mars 2020 Planetary Protection Engineer who works in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

But several years ago, she was taking a summer pre-calculus class at her local community college. Cooper wanted to get into college “as soon as humanly possible.”

“I couldn’t go to the local university (for the class), but the community college opened its doors to me so I could take a course during the summer,” Dr. Cooper said during a meet-and-greet online ZOOM session with STCC staff, faculty and student trustee Monique Selden-Riley. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have aligned myself to the trajectory that I was on.”

Vonetta Lightfoot, multicultural affairs operation manager at Springfield Technical Community College, organized the meet and greet, which was held before Dr. Cooper helped STCC kick off the fall 2021 Diversity Speaker and Performance Series. The next speaker, Denise Soler-Cox, will give a virtual presentation on Oct. 12 at 12:15 p.m.

Lightfoot thanked Dr. Cooper for speaking to the STCC community, noting that she is a great role model for students who are thinking about their future.

Monique Selden-Riley, the student trustee at STCC, asked Dr. Cooper to share her most meaningful challenge during her educational journey.

“Challenging myself to do an internship every summer,” Dr. Cooper responded. “And this is what I tell students. … When I go through an internship during the summer, it tells me one of two things: What I want to do, and what I don’t want to do.”

Dr. Cooper noted that NASA offers several programs for students, and makes an effort to reach out to those enrolled at community college. STCC student Aminah Bergeron, now the SGA vice president, participated in the NASA Lucy Student Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler (L’SPACE) Mission Concept Academy – Summer 2020 Program, an online virtual academy. She also attended the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) Onsite Experience at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Read her story here.

“It’s important to get groups of people and students from all backgrounds,” Cooper said. “Community college is highly valued and included (in NASA programs).”

Dr. Cooper received her B.A. in physics from Hampton University in 2006. She then enrolled in Drexel University where she received her master’s and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in thermal fluid sciences. Her dissertation studies involved non-equilibrium plasma sterilization of spacecraft materials.

In her role as the Lead Planetary Protection Engineer for Mars 2020, she was responsible for ensuring spacecraft compliance with cleanliness requirements. This required interfacing with several entities within JPL, vendors, and NASA Headquarters.

Cooper is a recipient of several awards, including the NASA Early Career Public Achievement Medal, the Charles Elachi Award for Exceptional Early Career Achievement, and JPL Voyager Awards for Technical Leadership. In addition to her work at JPL, she also enjoys public outreach, collaborating with schools, lecture series, and media organizations to spread the love of STEAM.