When Kenneth Harris II was in college, he was struggling with a class. An adviser told him he should consider changing his major. Today, he’s a mechanical engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Center.
Harris, 27, knew from the time he was young that he wanted to work for NASA. He attended Prince George's County Public Schools, and graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt High School just down the street from Goddard. He grew up on the Greenbelt campus with his father, Kenneth Harris, who is also a mechanical engineer for the space agency.
It was his time in college that made him question whether he had what it took to succeed as an engineer.
“I definitely had self doubt,” Harris said about the encounter with his adviser. “I went on the university website and looked up what majors could I do and what credits could transfer over. I had those moments of doubt”
Harris said friends and mentors helped get him back on track. It was his father, his greatest mentor of all who put the confidence back in him.
“The wife and I could sit back and say: "No you will make it through',” Harris said. “Don't allow anyone else to tell you your destiny.”
Harris II said overcoming that moment and other struggles inspires him to show other minorities who are interested in engineering and STEM that there is a path.
“The wall that I see is representation,” Harris said. “Not everyone has the opportunity to have a dad that works at NASA. Not everyone has the opportunity to have even both parents in their lives.”
Because of that, Harris said he feels it’s important for him to use his platform to gain recognition in the field to teach younger generations that they can do what he’s doing if they want to.
Harris said he never imagined that bringing his son to work with him all those years ago would have the result that it did.
“He's doing his own thing and we can't ask for better,” Harris said of his son.
“It's an honor to have a strong figure who I looked up to and aspired to be like. So to work here is a dream come true,” Harris said.