Seneca Valley alum shares out-of-this-world experience

March 13, 2019 Cranberry Local News


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JACKSON TWP — Aspiring novelists tend to read famous literature and spend their time with writing prompts. Typically, they don't accept jobs at NASA.

A 2007 Seneca Valley graduate, Shannon Eichorn, is the exception to this rule.

“When I grow up, I want to be a sci-fi writer,” Eichorn told about 200 Seneca Valley students Tuesday morning in the school auditorium, returning to her alma mater — and her adolescent ambitions.

The lecture was part of Seneca Valley's STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) series, which brings guest speakers to talk with students interested in STEM careers about how they ended up in their fields and what options students have to do the same.

Eichorn, a Zelienople native, is a facility management engineer at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

Aerospace, Eichorn said, was her “backup plan” when she went to college. She said she took advanced math and science courses in high school, but she wasn't as interested it as she was in English and writing.

Eichorn said her father told her to think about getting a day job when she expressed her interest in writing science fiction novels, so she found one at NASA.

In her time in aerospace, she has supported jet engine development and supersonic wind tunnel testing and led the Boundary Layer-Ingesting Inlet/Distortion-Tolerant Fan test, of which she showed sketches.

Eichorn said she didn't want to be “stuck” in aviation after working with jet engine development and wanted to work in space. When she applied to NASA, she applied to become a testing engineer — an unpopular choice, she said, especially when compared with design engineering.

“You can get really far really fast if you're willing to try unpopular things,” Eichorn advised.

At the test facilities, Eichorn supports the Power Systems Facility, a test bed for aviation and spacecraft electrical systems; the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig, a chamber that can simulate atmospheric conditions of Venus for development of Venus probes and geological studies; and the Plasma Interaction Facility, a set of vacuum chambers used to study effects on spacecraft electrical systems.

Junior Caelen Blakely, who has an interest in physics, science and math, said he enjoyed the presentation.

“It was really nice to hear about NASA,” he said. “A lot of the inner workings are a mystery, so it was cool to see the diagrams. (Her) stories were fantastic, and having a Seneca Valley alum ... it's not just some random speaker coming from who-knows-where. It helps with approachability.”

Although it's not endorsed by NASA, Eichorn published her first book, “Rights of Use,” in August.

“The path to your dreams doesn't have to be straight,” she said.

After Eichorn's presentation, students took part in a Q&A segment in which she answered questions about classes she took in high school and accidents she has seen in the testing field.

AP biology teacher David Lowe said Eichorn's message was “on point.”

“The message was great,” he said. “A good dabbling in 'this is what I do' (and) 'the road to where I got was not straight.'”

Patti Griest, a special-education teacher who recently won a $3,000 STEM grant for Seneca Valley, said she had Eichorn in class and was happy to see her again.

“So often, students in class have this idea of where they want to be, but they don't get there in a straight line,” Griest said. “Kids need to hear that because they may not be on a path any of us think they need to be on.”

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Alexandria Mansfield

Alexandria Mansfield

Alexandria Mansfield is a community reporter at the Cranberry Eagle. She worked as a freelance reporter before joining the Eagle staff in July 2018. She graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania's journalism and public relations department in 2018 and from Wellsboro Area High School in 2015. While at IUP, she served as a reporter and editor at The Penn, the university's student-run, twice-weekly newspaper, and earned first place awards from Pennsylvania News Media Association and Pittsburgh Black Media Federation in 2017 and 2018, respectively, for her news coverage and investigative reporting.