Alena Analeigh is a 13-year-old college student who is proving that with hard work and determination that big dreams can be accomplished at nearly any age. The ambitious native Texan made history by becoming NASA’s youngest intern.
Alena began attending Oakwood University at the age of 12, and currently attends Arizona State University. At first, she wanted to become a NASA engineer but the sophomore who recently made the Dean’s List told The Baltimore Times that she changed her major to a Pre-Med path.
An early love of LEGOs sparked the college sophomore’s determination to make a phenomenal mark in the world. Alena became widely known as The Brown STEM Girl.™
“My passion is everything STEM. I was around three or four years old when I became fascinated with the stars and space and LEGOs. My mom began taking me to different astronomy nights and NASA Centers. I remember walking in saying ‘I am going to work here one day, and I will be the youngest girl of color to work here.’ Well, I recently made history as the youngest person to ever intern for NASA at 12,” Alena said. “Initially I wanted to be an engineer for NASA. Going to college helped me discover what I really wanted to do, and that is to become a flight surgeon and work with astronauts.”
With the help of her mother, Daphne McQuarter, Alena unapologetically embraced a mindset to achieve excellence. McQuarter is the kind of mother who has been supportive of Alena’s desires to take monumental leaps, from applying for medical internships, to moving on a college campus.
McQuarter describes her daughter as “a well-rounded student and child” who has been embraced by older students who mentor and look out for their “little sister.” She explained that her sole job as a mother is to nurture the gift inside of Alena. Giving her daughter space to be herself and to discover what makes her happy, are a few pieces of the puzzle, which help McQuarter rise to the occasion.
However, McQuarter’s educational investment in Alena requires her to do more than simply cheer for her from the sidelines. She says that Alena was homeschooled, world schooled, which entails real world interaction and attended traditional school. The perceptive mother’s academic, philosophy, includes providing a creative and safe space for a child to learn. She is not a fan of standardized tests— putting youth in a box. Her tip for other parents to inspire academic excellence in their children is to highlight individuality.
“Have a voice. Explore. Pay attention to your child’s conversation and actions. Every child is different— if there are multiple children in the home, don’t compare them. Every child is not meant to go to college, and it is ok. Know your child’s love language and learning style,” McQuarter said. “Celebrate the small things which to a child are sometimes huge. Lastly, protect your child’s mental health. Seeing a licensed health professional is the best thing you can do for a child. Even if nothing is wrong, it gives them space to feel like someone is listening and they have a voice and a safe outlet to share their feelings. Don’t take for granted they tell you everything.”
Despite Alena’s other recent public achievements, such as being named a 2022 Global Child Prodigy in Science and a Forbes 30 Under 30 nominee, McQuarter also told The Baltimore Times that Alena’s happiness is all that matters.
“I am proud of the little girl she was, the teenager she is, and the young woman she is becoming. Alena is an amazing child, and I am just happy that I get to see her live her dreams out loud with no regrets and apologies,” McQuarter said.
In the same vein, Alena acknowledges her mother’s support, which has allowed her to learn and grow, in addition to her village’s participation in her journey. Mentorship is also a part of her winning formula.
The director of NASA’s Langley Research Center, Clayton Turner has been a mentor to The Brown STEM Girl™ who gives back by investing in other girls through The Brown STEM Girl™ scholarship program. Alena pointed out that girls who aspire to pursue STEM careers should never give up on their dreams.
“Never accept anyone telling you that you can’t or that you’re too young. I create a space for other girls of color in STEM, because one day someone did that for me. Dream! Dream big,” Alena said.