Only education will make you independent: NASA scientist to students

Indian-origin program scientist at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Dr. Hashima Hasan has urged students to stand on their own feet and reach out to stars. “Get an education, build your confidence and stand on your own feet. That’s the only way to experience true independence and empowerment, ”she said while delivering the keynote address at the 7th annual Tehrim Dass Memorial Lecture, a hybrid event held at Avadh Girls’ Degree College (AGDC) Lucknow, from Washington DC.

The auditorium at AGDC was packed with students, educators and NCC cadets. She highlighted the importance of finding oneself a mentor. Moved by Tehrim Dass’s inspirational life, she said the keynote address was a celebration of her legacy. “Mrs. Dass forged a new path for girls like me to help us believe in ourselves and keep our heads high,” said Dr. Hasan.

Humanities and space careers

Sakeena, a student of AGDC, asked Dr. Hasan about her views on people who considered women “intellectually inferior.” “All I will say is have faith in yourself and don’t let others make you feel inadequate,” said Hasan.

To another student’s query, she said there was scope for students with humanities backgrounds too in the space fields. “We have humanities students involved in space art. We actually had an art competition for James Webb (space telescope). Then, we need science writers. If you’re good at writing, you can take that up. Students with a design background can also get in provided they have knowledge of engineering, ”she said.

Lucknow connect and path to NASA

Born and educated in the state capital, Hasan calls herself “a Lucknow girl.” It was her “dream to work as a space scientist ever since she was a little girl and would watch Sputnik go by from her backyard in Lucknow”.

Hasan did her schooling at Loreto, completed BSc from Lucknow University and went on to do her MSc and M Phil degrees from Aligarh Muslim University. She received a doctorate in theoretical nuclear physics from Oxford University, UK.

While her path to a career in astronomy was not straightforward, abiding interest in science and mathematics besides much-needed serendipity made it happen. “Ours was the first batch to study science at Loreto Convent. Before that, science was not offered as a subject (in girls’ schools). It was also a challenge for the school to find a woman teacher who could teach the subject, ”said Hasan, who joined NASA in 1994.

This lecture was jointly organized by ICS and AGDC as a tribute to Tehrim Dass whose outstanding social work spanned six decades and who served as a member of the AGDC management committee for years. It was also broadcast to hundreds of edu-leaders, parents and students the world over.

Earlier while introducing Dr. Hasan, Dr. Amrita Dass, Founder-Director, Institute for Career Studies (ICS) and Tehrim Dass’ daughter said, “Dr. Hasan’s achievements and amazing journey from a school student to a renowned program scientist at NASA inspires us all to pursue our dreams with unfailing hope in our hearts — the world is our stage with a universe of opportunities. Never give up! ”

Prominent among those present on the occasion included chairman, managing committee, AGDC, Zarine Viccajee; manager, AGDC, Nishi Pandey; principal, AGDC, Prof Bina Rai Tehrim Dass’ family members and ICS and AGDC communities.

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