LaTasha Taylor Starr
Space Systems Engineer
- Master's degree in Human-Centered Design and Engineering (formerly called Technical Communication),
- Certificate in User Interface Design, UW
- Bachelor's degree in Aeronautics, minor in biology, Tennessee State University
- Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- Centro De Astrobiologia in Madrid, Spain
- NASA Johnson Space Center
- NASA Ames
- Lockheed Martin
As a space systems engineer for Lockheed Martin, LaTasha has worked on a variety of projects aimed at making technologies for space exploration more user friendly. She recently worked on a Houston-based team that helped to design the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle for NASA. The purpose of this new human space flight system, which remains in testing and development, is to transport crews of astronauts safely to and from the International Space Station, the moon, Mars and other destinations beyond the Earth.
LaTasha and her colleagues designed controls and displays in the Orion's cockpit, where the crew will spend most of its time. "Astronauts who came back from the International Space Station would test our prototype," she said. "It was amazing to get instant feedback and then incorporate it back into our design."
Her latest assignment, based in Silicon Valley, is on a classified program.
LaTasha grew up in Memphis, where her parents instilled in her a strong sense of resilience amidst the racism and other challenges she encountered. She excelled in academics, music (first-chair clarinet) and sports (voted "most athletic" by her high school peers) and earned full scholarships both for college and graduate school. "Everything I did, I gave 110 percent. Anything less was, and still is, unacceptable," she said.
LaTasha's interest in science and engineering blossomed while attending college at Tennessee State University, where she majored in aeronautics and minored in biology. She landed prestigious internships with Boeing, NASA and others each summer during college and, armed with a variety of work experiences, opted to enter graduate school immediately after her college graduation.
"At that point I was so hungry to keep learning more about my field," she said.
The UW's advantage
Of her seven graduate school acceptance offers, the UW's appealed to LaTasha because of the University's strengths in the emerging field of astrobiology, which takes a multidisciplinary look at life in the universe. She studied with Professor Woody Sullivan, who has distinguished himself by designing many sundials, including one that went to Mars as part of the Mars Exploration Rover mission. LaTasha ultimately earned her degree from the Human-Centered Design and Engineering department and focused on human space exploration.
LaTasha's favorite part of attending the UW was her relationship with the Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP), the UW Graduate School program that promotes the recruitment and retention of minority graduate students.
"GO-MAP proved to be a safe haven for me, providing the academic guidance and financial support I needed to not only complete my degree but excel in the process," she said. "Being over 2,000 miles away from home, I needed a family like GO-MAP to lean on in challenging times, and they were there every time without fail."
Advice for prospective graduate students
"Don't be afraid to go beyond thinking outside the box to the point of removing the box altogether if need be. With a passion for greatness and the right support community cheering you on, you'll see that failure will not be an option."
Photo provided by LaTasha Taylor Starr