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NASA Johnson Space Center director returning home to Conway to deliver CCU grad address – Charleston Post Courier

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Updated: May 1, 2022 @ 11:53 am
Vanessa Ellerbe Wyche, director of NASA’s 10,000-employee Johnson Space Center, is coming back to her hometown of Conway to deliver the commencement address at Coastal Carolina University on May 7. Coastal Carolina University/Provided

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Vanessa Ellerbe Wyche, director of NASA’s 10,000-employee Johnson Space Center, is coming back to her hometown of Conway to deliver the commencement address at Coastal Carolina University on May 7. Coastal Carolina University/Provided
CONWAY — Vanessa Ellerbe Wyche — leader of NASA’s spaceflight hub overseeing the astronaut corps, mission control center and International Space Station — is coming back to her hometown to deliver the commencement address at Coastal Carolina University on May 7.
Wyche became director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in June 2021 after working with the space agency since 1989, including as flight manager for several space shuttle missions.
Wyche said she was “humbled and honored” to deliver the CCU commencement address.
“At NASA’s Johnson Space Center, I have a front row seat to history, as I’m privileged to lead more than 11,000 employees who work each day to dare, unite and explore — and lead the world in human space exploration,” Wyche said in a statement released by the space agency. “I plan to discuss NASA’s missions and challenge the Chanticleer Class of 2022 to reach for the stars with their own next giant leap.”
Her projects at NASA include new planned manned moon missions that will lead to Mars exploration programs and put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface as well as development of spacecraft for deep-space missions.
She said her work with NASA includes building a foundation in schools by strengthening higher education and online classes to prepare a new generation “to code, calculate, design, and discover its way to a new era of American innovation.” That work also includes supporting underrepresented communities in science and technology fields. Wyche is the first woman of color to direct the Johnson Space Center. 
Wyche grew up in Conway as the youngest of five children to two educators who encouraged her interests that included tap dancing, gymnastics and Girl Scouts. A grade school biology teacher saw her passion for science and offered motivation into what became her career.
She graduated from Conway High School before heading to Clemson University where she received a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in bioengineering.
Wyche’s sister, Sylvia Hickman, described the NASA leader as extremely smart, kind, creative and involved. Wyche volunteers with the local schools because she is a big advocate for kids, Hickman added. 
“She participated in a lot of different activities when we were growing up — everything from Girl Scouts to gymnastics to cheerleading to piano lessons. She was very, very well-rounded,” Hickman said. “Her son is an Eagle Scout, and Vanessa was the person who was there, helping him along the way — not only for her son but for other Eagle Scouts as well.”
Hickman said her sister’s organizational and leadership skills are impressive — and not just when planning a space mission.
“When we’re planning something like a vacation, Vanessa’s the person that designates what you are going to do, and we all fall in line,” she said. “I am so blessed to have her as my sister, and I don’t think God does anything unintentionally.”
Conway Mayor Barbara Jo Blain-Bellamy, the city’s first Black mayor, said her family attended Cherry Hill Missionary Baptist Church together along with Wyche and her family.
“I’ve known Vanessa since she was born and I watched her grow up,” said Blain-Bellamy, who addressed CCU graduates in 2018. “Both of her parents were educators. I knew that their children stood out as very bright and that the standards in their home were perhaps a step above those of typical households at the time. They saw books as an open door to all possibilities.”
Blain-Bellamy said she was in awe of how Wyche grew through NASA’s ranks.
“I was surprised. We’re talking about space science and this is something so different — but as I think back, there’s nothing about who this little girl appeared to be that would make me stunned about her accomplishments,” the mayor said. “She took the high road. She went big and she didn’t go home.”
Blain-Bellamy thinks Wyche’s commencement speech will offer encouragement to young women.
“I think overall it will be a real humble presentation on what those possibilities are and the importance of those early steps — enjoying books, for example,” she said.
CCU President Michael Benson said he was elated when he found out Wyche agreed to deliver the school’s commencement address.
“I have followed NASA, space travel and the conquest of space since I was a kid,” he told Post and Courier Myrtle Beach. “I grew up in Dallas and everybody knows about the Johnson Space Center in Houston. To have someone from literally our own backyard that is now the director is astounding.”
Benson said he is pleased to have a key leader in a government agency that has long inspired so many students coming to campus.
“This sets us apart from a lot of other countries in terms of our commitment, what we are willing to invest and how it showcased the brilliance of so many people for so long and worked so hard,” Benson said. “I would include Vanessa Wyche in that category. She’s been a part of science and technology at the forefront in so many ways.”


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