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Stay Curious: A Conversation with 2024 NASA Graduate Andre Douglas, Ph.D.

Meet Andre Douglas, Ph.D., a 2024 NASA Astronaut Graduate and son of two military parents. After speaking with Dr. Douglas, it’s clear that the most important fuel for his path to space has been – and continues to be – his insatiable curiosity and love of learning.

Chosen by NASA to join the 2021 Astronaut Candidate Class, he reported for duty in 2022 and graduated in 2024. Prior to his NASA training, Douglas earned the following degrees:

  • Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy

  • Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

  • Master’s degree in naval architecture and marine engineering from the University of Michigan

  • Master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

  • Doctorate in systems engineering from George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Back to the Beginning

From the time he was seven years old, Douglas has been fascinated with space exploration.
“It was around the time when I started understanding astronomy and telescopes,” he explains. “That curiosity about ‘what’s out there’ has been the driver for all of this. I'm always fascinated with the unknown and wondering how far we can push ourselves to know more.”
Growing up with parents who held both bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees, Douglas knew there was an expectation to do his best in school and go to college. Yet, his parents empowered him to pursue his own passions.
“They were always guiding me, based on my drive to learn space exploration. They would suggest a technical degree that could help me with that. Or they’d reference other degrees in different areas,” Douglas said about the foundation and direction his parents provided.

Month of the Military Child

Douglas recognizes that he was blessed to have parents who provided stability, even as he attended different schools throughout his life due to his parents’ careers in the United States military.
Not only did Douglas follow in his father’s footsteps by attending the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, his mother is also a dedicated veteran. She was an Army nurse, Air Force cadet and served in the Marine Corps.
As Douglas prepared to enter high school, his father was going to be stationed in Hawaii or Virginia. Although Hawaii’s beauty can’t be denied and the island opportunity was good for his dad professionally, the family chose to go to Virginia for the schools.
“I always tell my dad that I cannot thank him enough for that awesome choice. I’ll never forget good old Hampton Roads – academically, people-wise and in terms of diversity.” Douglas said.
“I had one teacher who I admired because I loved calculus. For me, math was just this concept using symbols and equations to describe what happens in the real world – and that blew my mind. I remember her being very good at what she was doing and teaching,” Douglas explained with enthusiasm.
“She was there to share what you can do with this. Math was like a language. You can describe how particles move throughout the earth in the universe. You can describe how cars work with respect to motion. It was just cool, and I knew if I could learn calculus, I could learn anything.”

The Power of People Skills

“Teamwork makes the dream work” may be a trite phrase, but when it comes to space exploration it can be the difference between success and failure – or even life and death.
Douglas is very pragmatic about the gravity of teamwork in space exploration, even more than just sole intelligence.
“If you can’t work with other smart people, you’re not going to make it as an astronaut,” he said. “We can't have brilliant people on the moon who can’t work together because that’s a risk to the crew being able to come home and being able to finish the mission. It’s critical to have these qualities, which we call now expeditionary skills.”
Douglas loves being part of a team, working with others and providing leadership. He honed these skills on the basketball court, in the marching band and on the soccer field – even serving as drumline captain and a captain for the soccer team.
“I think the characteristics of being a team player being flexible and wanting to help others are essential to becoming an astronaut when there are literally thousands of other people who are as smart as you,” he said.

The Role of the Teacher

As Douglas mentioned several times, he was extremely blessed to have parents who nurtured his dreams and encouraged him to pursue them with passion. However, not every student has that essential foundation.

Educators have the unique opportunity to see the flicker of interest in a student’s eyes or observe them demonstrating a skill that can be cultivated. Teachers have the future of our nation’s and global STEM leaders within their daily orbit. Educators can create an environment that fans the flames of a young person’s passion – simply by being present and well-prepared to deliver a superior STEM education.
Douglas believes that when other people – including teachers, parents, friends and professionals – are excited about STEM education, it can open doors for students. Or at the very least, it can show them the doors they can walk through with confidence.

Countdown to Success

When asked about which mission he hopes to be a part of in the future, Douglas replied, “while each recent graduate may be involved on a mission to [International Space Station] or the moon or Mars, any mission that supports the goal [of space exploration] is a good mission.”
Whether he’s talking about his own career in space exploration or students who are just beginning to discover the dynamic opportunities of STEM, his advice is as follows: “Keep the mind open and maintain a vector toward the dream.”