Fahey’s work is universal in scope – CSB / SJU

As she approached the end of her first year at Collège Saint-Benoît, Molly Fahey 2005 reconsidered her decision to major in physics.

Classes had turned out to be more difficult than she had expected, and she wasn’t sure that was always the right way to go.

Enter Amy Hendrickson, his high school science teacher at Eveleth-Gilbert in Minnesota’s northern Iron Range. She met Fahey’s mother in town and asked for an update.

“My mom told him I was thinking of changing my specialty,” Fahey recalls. “She asked for my number and called me right away. She told me to give her just one more semester. Then, if I still wanted to change majors, I should. But she wanted me to hold on a little longer.

It was Hendrickson who inspired Fahey to pursue science in the first place, and she followed her mentor’s advice. This proved to be a wise decision as it set her on a path that led her to her current job as an engineer in the laser and electro-optics branch of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, near Washington, DC.

“What I do is develop spaceflight laser technology,” Fahey said. “Lasers have all sorts of different scientific applications. There are lasers for earth sciences. One of the projects I worked on, ICESat-2, developed a laser instrument to orbit the Earth and measure changes in ice mass.

“Recently, I have been working on the development of ultraviolet lasers for future planetary science missions in astrobiology to search for extraterrestrial life and potentially habitable environments beyond Earth. Additionally, I am working on laser developments for programs in heliophysics, astrophysics and laser communications. We cover a wide variety of fields.”

The CSB and SJU Physics Department recently announced the addition of an engineering concentration beginning at the start of the 2022-23 academic year. Fahey was a physics student at CSB herself, which she says gave her a solid academic foundation for what was to come.

“I felt like when I went to engineering school, having a strong background in physics prepared me so well,” said Fahey, who earned her master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the Florida Institute of Technology. “In fact, this background helped me get this job. I remember my boss here at NASA saying he really liked that I had physics in my training. I deal with physics every day in engineering, so it was really a solid foundation for my further education.

Beyond that, however, Fahey said the experiences she had at CSB and SJU could not have been replicated at other larger schools she planned to attend.

“When I was researching schools, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in engineering, but I didn’t know what engineering discipline,” she said. “I liked so many other aspects of CSB and SJU. So I decided to go for it, start in physics and figure out everything else later. And it was a good decision.

“Attending a liberal arts school provided a well-rounded education. Classes were smaller which was beneficial as physics and math can be difficult. Having direct access to my teachers made a big difference. I think it was my first year that I took a course focused on optics, taught by Dr (Dean) Langley. That’s when I first decided that I really liked lasers and optics. I ended up getting an internship with him during the summer between my junior and senior year where I was able to study lasers and work on research.

“Beyond that, I was able to play tennis and get involved in modern dance. These are all experiences that I might not have had at a larger school. It all started me on the path I’m on today.

A path that led her to NASA, a place where she had wanted to work for a long time.

“I’ve always had an interest in space, even as a kid,” she said. “But growing up in a small town in northern Minnesota, I didn’t let myself think of that as an option. It would have been hard for me to understand that working at NASA and living in Washington, D.C. was even in my field. possibilities. So I would definitely tell anyone to pursue whatever interests you.

” Do not hesitate. Stick with your dreams and go for it.

About Homer Yonker

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