Louise Jandura ‘84 was a three sport athlete at MIT as part of the varsity field hockey, basketball, and softball teams and is MIT’s only four-time Academic All-America honoree. A graduate of Course 2 (Mechanical Engineering), Jandura stayed at MIT to receive her Masters in Mechanical Engineering in 1986, and is currently the Sampling and Caching Subsystem Chief Engineer for the Mars 2020 Mission.
Based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., Jandura is hard at work leading a team of over 100 people to design and build the sampling and caching system for the Mars 2020 Rover.
If you can recall, why did you choose to attend MIT?
I was interested in math and science and MIT was certainly a good place to study those subjects. I also visited and spoke to the coaches in my sports and liked the athletic opportunities at MIT.
What is your current job title and what does that position entail?
I am the Mars 2020 Sampling and Caching Subsystem Chief Engineer. Along with the managers of the subsystem, I lead a team of 120 people that are designing and building the sampling and caching system for our Mars 2020 rover. This sampling system will acquire materials from Mars (rock cores and loosely consolidated regolith), package those samples, and leave them on the surface of Mars for a future mission to retrieve for an Earth return.
What motivated you to pursue a career path engineering objects for space exploration? Was there a specific moment in your education or career that has led you to where you are today?
My path to working at JPL and engineering objects for space was serendipitous. I had just entered MIT at 77 Mass Ave and was about to start walking down the Infinite Corridor and I noticed a poster on the wall advertising that recruiters from JPL were going to be at the Career Center. From the poster, it looked like interesting work. I put a resume in their folder and had an interview at MIT and then a follow up one at JPL. I did not know much about JPL until I saw the poster, but I learned a lot during the interview process. It was a good match with my desire to design, build, and control electromechanical hardware. I was also impressed by the overall mission of exploring space for scientific purposes.
What is your favorite part about working on the Mars 2020 Rover?
The people, the team! It never ceases to amaze me what a set of talented and dedicated people can achieve when they work together toward a common goal.
Do you have any specific hopes for the Mars 2020 rover mission?
First and foremost, I hope that the Rover is able to collect a very compelling set of scientific samples of soil and rock – compelling enough that they get returned to Earth in a future mission. I also hope that all the hardware that makes up the Rover works effectively for a long time.
What piece of advice would you have for current MIT student-athletes?
Search for and pursue your passions. Choose to compete – in the classroom and in your sport. At JPL where I work we have a saying “Dare Mighty Things” which comes from this quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” You are already daring mighty things by being an MIT student-athlete. Way to go!
What is your most fond memory of MIT athletics?
All of my memories are fond so it is very hard to pick one. I remember during my junior year we qualified for the Eastern AIAW Division III Tournament in softball (the equivalent of an NCAA Regional now) and we got to play at Montclair State in New Jersey which is right near my hometown of Clifton, N.J. It was a thrill to qualify for the tournament and a great honor to get to play with my teammates in front of my family.
What would you say were your greatest athletic and academic accomplishments during your time at MIT?
I am a four-time CoSIDA Academic All-America (twice in softball, and once each in basketball and field hockey). My teammates chose me as captain and MVP in field hockey and softball. In softball we won the Mass. AIAW Tournament during my sophomore year and qualified for the Eastern AIAW Division III Tournament my junior year. I got my degree and was inducted in both Tau Beta Pi and Pi Tau Sigma, the engineering and mechanical engineering honor societies, respectively.
How did your athletic involvement aid in the path that you chose following graduation?
I don’t think of the two as particularly related, but I do know that my time at MIT, both in the classroom and on the field, left me well prepared for my professional life. It was a period of immense growth for me and it expanded my perspective of the world and its possibilities a great deal.
What was your favorite non-athletics activity at MIT?
I enjoyed hanging out with my friends and teammates and exploring Boston with them.
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