Alena Wicker is only 12 years old and is set to attend Arizona State University this month. Attending college before she’s a teenager isn’t her only lofty goal — the young Black mind has dreams to reach the stars and plans to start by double majoring in astronomical and planetary science and chemistry so she can get her foot in the door at NASA.
Though her occupation has jumped from being an astronomer to engineering, her mother, Daphne McQuarter, says that the dream has always been NASA. “She would always say, ‘Mommy, I’m going to work for NASA.’ Then she would start saying, ‘I’m going to be the youngest Black girl to ever work for NASA—watch.”
The jump from astronomer to engineering makes perfect sense when you consider Alena’s main passion: Legos. Alena doesn’t just play with them, she builds with them, and the harder the project, the better.
She’s recently built the Taj Mahal, the Disney castle, the Millenium Falcon, and appropriately, the Apollo 11 rover and a NASA rocket. One build alone took Alena up to 15 hours, running on zero sleep over two days, and it’s only the beginning. Alena doesn’t want to just build Lego rovers; she wants to build real ones.
It didn’t go unnoticed how little the STEM field catered to Black girls like Alena, though. Women made up half of all US workers in STEM, but only from the medical standpoint. There aren’t many women in the classrooms or the workplaces of the computers and engineering fields, and it’s largely due to lack of support.
Even more shocking, Black people only made up 9% of all STEM workers. Wanting to bridge the gap and create a safe space for people like her, Alena launched her own website: Brown Stem Girl (BSG), which was created for “supporting and educating girls of color around the world about the importance of STEM and how to excel in it.”
Science isn’t Alena’s only talent, though. In true cosmopolitan fashion, Alena is also learning Spanish and Arabic, two languages that will no doubt give her an edge over her peers, and she is currently writing a children’s book titled “Brainiac World.”
Alena’s next big undertaking: a podcast. Alongside her website, Alena’s working on a podcast to be released sometime this month. “My podcast is to encourage girls in STEM by bringing other women and girls of STEM to ask and answer questions,” Alena says when asked about her plans for the show. One of the first people she’d like to have on the podcast is Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black female to travel to space, to get her perspective of what it’s like being an astronaut as a Black woman.
Incoming college student, future NASA engineer, writer, and entrepreneur: It’s clear that big things are on the horizon for Alena. The twelve-year-old and her mother teased that NASA has already contacted her, so maybe Alena will reach the stars sooner than later. But for now, she’s got a new Lego set to build and a future to plan.