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Meet the 12-year-old genius who has her sights set on becoming a NASA engineer

Alena Wicker hopes to help close the racial and gender gaps in STEM, all while enjoying the same things any 12-year-old would, like hanging out at the mall and watching movies.

Meet the 12-year-old genius who has her sights set on becoming a NASA engineer
Image Source: SaycheeseDGTL / Twitter

At only 12 years old, Texas resident Alena Wicker is set to graduate high school and join Arizona State University in the fall later this year. At university, she plans to double major in astronomical and planetary science and chemistry, all so she can get closer to her dream of working as an engineer with NASA. Originally, she wanted to become an astronomer, but switched over to engineering because of her love of building things, she revealed in an interview with Good Morning America. However, ever since she was a little girl, one goal has always been the same: she plans to be the youngest Black girl to ever work for NASA, ABC Action News reports.



"She would always say, 'Mommy, I'm going to work for NASA,'" Wicker's mother Daphne McQuarter shared. "Then she would start saying, 'I'm going to be the youngest Black girl to ever work for NASAโ€”watch.'" Her passion for engineering began with a very simple toy: Legos. The pre-teen stated, "Ever since I was four, I loved playing around with different types of Legos." That is when her mother recognized she was a gifted child. "She would organize the Legos by color, by size," she said. "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."


In the recent past alone, Wicker has built the Taj Mahal, the Disney castle, the Millennium Falcon, the Apollo 11 rover, and a NASA rocket with Legos. Although she said it was mighty difficult to choose a favorite model, she said it would have to be Millenium Falcon as she is a huge fan of the Star Wars franchise. Her favorite movie is Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and her favorite character is Princess Leia. It took the 12-year-old 14 to 15 hours to build the Millennium Falcon model. During this time, she went "all in" on the project, building it over two days without any sleep.



On a more serious note, Wicker recently took note of the gender and racial disparities within STEM. In an effort to do something about it, she launched her own website, the Brown Stem Girl (BSG), to provide a platform for girls of color in STEM. McQuarter stated, "She said, '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.' 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." Wicker was responsible for the entire business plan, from graphic design to larger funding requests and public relations.


In addition to this, the child genius is learning Arabic and Spanish on the side. One of her next projects is a children's book titled Brainiac World. Wicker is also working on a podcast "to encourage girls in STEM by bringing other women and girls of STEM to ask and answer questions." Despite all this, she affirmed that she was still a kid at heart. Wicker enjoys hanging out with her friends, going to the mall, watching movies and TV, singing, and doing track and field. McQuarter keeps her grounded by making sure her daughter participates in activities with kids her own age. "She's like the goofy kid in the family," her mother affirmed. "She's just Alena to us." At present, Wicker is just excited about the journey ahead of her. Sharing advice for other young people, she said, "All my life, people are trying to hold me down because of my age. We're in a new year, in a new season, and no one can hold us down anymore. So you can keep your feet on the ground, but you can continue to reach for the stars."


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