NASA’s Super-Mann Visits Her Alma Mater
POSTED ON: Thursday, October 12, 2023 10:00 AM by MC2 Sarah Thielen
The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) welcomed Marine Corps Colonel and NASA Astronaut Nicole Mann Sept. 6-8, where she spent much of her visit meeting and talking with midshipmen.
As a USNA class of 1999 alumna, Mann spoke about how some of her earliest military experiences stayed with her.
"A lot of those little things you learn in your plebe year really develop, and you apply them throughout the rest of your life,” said Mann. “It seems like a small thing, but it's really just training your mind and giving you the discipline to learn something and execute it."
Before her 2013 selection into the NASA astronaut class, Mann developed a diverse operational flying career. She has accumulated more than 2,700 flight hours in 25 types of aircraft and has flown 47 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a midshipman, she was a Trident Scholar, distinguished graduate, and starred on the Navy soccer team she captained her senior year. She didn’t always know what she wanted to pursue, but she followed her passions in life.
"I knew that I wanted to serve my country,” said Mann. “I knew I wanted to study engineering, and I knew that I wanted to play soccer in college. So really, it was a combination of those three things that brought me to the Naval Academy."
On the first day of her visit, Mann stopped by the women’s soccer practice at Glenn Warner Soccer Facility. She was able to share stories about her time on the team from 1995-1998 with current players and staff, and even joined their practice.
“It was so much fun to have Col. Mann join our practice and speak to the team after,” said Midshipman 1st Class (senior) Kat Healey, a company commander and soccer team midfielder. “She's extremely humble and kind. She showed us all of the items that she brought to space and told us about her experiences up there. It makes me think of my classmates and I graduating soon, and all the cool stories we'll tell when we come back for a reunion.”
The team faced off against Virginia Tech the next evening and of course, Col. Mann was in attendance.
“Every time I saw Col. Mann on the sidelines, it made me proud to be where I was at that moment,” said Midshipman 3rd Class (sophomore) Amelia Abusham, a center forward on the soccer team. “From the Jersey I was wearing to the field I was playing on, she did it too. Having her around us was an eye opening experience, and she makes me feel as if I can do anything.”
Midshipmen in the aerospace engineering department were invited to have breakfast with Mann where she spoke more specifically about her work with NASA and how her career path led her there. Midshipman 1st Class (senior) Jackee Gwynn, the president of the USNA chapter for Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society and captain of the parachute team, said the visit reaffirmed her passion for space exploration.
“The visit with Col. Mann was a huge inspiration for me,” said Gwynn. “She was able to relate her experiences on the ISS and in the astronaut program in a way that tied back to her time as a midshipman. Col. Mann has been a role model for me since she held a Zoom call to speak to midshipmen during COVID during my plebe year. She shows me what it looks like to excel in your military career, become a mom, and then go chase your dreams to become an astronaut. My aspiration is to work alongside men and women like Col. Mann in the astronaut corps.”
With the future in mind for Midshipman Gwynn, she realized “my opportunities after graduation are a lot broader than I thought before.” Col. Mann was once in the same spot as Gwynn, pondering on the seemingly impossible challenge of becoming an astronaut, and she finally thought “you won't know unless you try, so why not just apply?” After hearing Col. Mann’s story, Gwynn is determined to pursue prestigious graduate studies, which she had never considered before. Gwynn remarked, “I am so grateful for the opportunity to personally meet someone who has been a role model for my own career since I was a plebe.”
On the final day of her visit while speaking at a leadership engagement in Chauvenet Hall, Mann shared advice and stories about her life since commissioning out of USNA. She encouraged the midshipmen to ask for the extra help when it’s needed and give their attention to the moment they’re in.
“Do not disqualify yourself or count yourself short, go after your dreams, pursue those dreams, and then you'll make it work.”