THE GREATEST CHALLENGES IN LIFE, THE CAL POLY ENGINEERING GRAD SAYS, COME FROM WITHIN

SAN LUIS OBISPO — As the nation grapples with a tumultuous year, marred by racial divide, violence and intense political division, astronaut Victor Glover, a Cal Poly alumnus, spoke to Black students from space, reassuring them of a better future on Earth. 

“Unfortunately, if you turn on the news, you see a lot of things that are going on in our society right now that you might not feel good about,” said Glover, who learned of the Jan. 6 riot on the U.S. Capitol from the International Space Station, where the engineering alumnus is on Day 58 of a six-month mission. “But whenever I start ruminating about those things, I think about you all … When you look up and see us older folks letting you down, you generally see young folks like you making that positive change and impact on your community. So I want to encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing because you guys are making the world a better place.” 

The NASA astronaut, who left for space two months ago, spoke to students in Cal Poly’s National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and others during a live Zoom meeting on Jan. 13, during a day off on the space station orbiting 250 miles above Earth. 

“I’ve been waiting for this all day!” he beamed — sometimes speaking upside down — as he floated in a micro-gravity environment. 

The Q&A event, titled “Succeeding While Black in STEM,” was hosted by Cal Poly’s NSBE, which has roughly 30 members. Glover was club president when he was a student in the ’90s. 

Current president, Amman Asfaw, who was instrumental in arranging the event with Glover and NASA, said the event marked a milestone. 

“Definitely, NSBE moment of the year, for sure,” Asfaw said afterward. 

Several current NSBE members and alumnus spoke afterward about how inspirational it was to interact with Glover, who has overcome many obstacles as a Black man in STEM. Several noted how Glover’s success provided hope and inspiration.

“One of the points of NSBE is to get people to where Victor is now,” said Asfaw, a Thousand Oaks graduate student who is seeking a master’s degree in electrical engineering.

Speaking about life at the space station, Glover said it’s easy to lose things due to microgravity. Working out by lifting weights helps him feel normal, and he takes breaks from work by reading his Bible and the book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” But what he looks forward to most is speaking to his family during weekly video conferences, during which they sometimes play charades.

“Charades in microgravity is pretty awesome,” he said. 

Glover was one of 18 astronauts recently named to the Artemis Team, which will mark a return to the moon later this decade. But the 44-year-old former Navy test pilot said he has already achieved more than he thought he ever would.

“I don’t have any more professional goals. My professional goals are about you,” he said pointing toward the camera, “about helping you succeed.”

When asked how he dealt with the challenge of being in an underrepresented group as a Cal Poly student, Glover (general engineering, ’99) told students they have to face challenges since they will continue to be underrepresented in their careers.

“And that requires strength,” he said. “Just like when you go to the gym, you put weight on the bar, and what does that do? It puts tension in your muscles. And the source of that muscle growth is that tension. And that’s what makes you physically stronger. It’s also what makes you emotionally and spiritually stronger.”

He also advised students to help others, as he did as a student, mentoring children of immigrants in Santa Maria. 

But mostly, he advised them to remain confident.

“The greatest challenges you’re going to face are from within,” he said. “Sometimes it takes what football and basketball coaches will tell you when they see you dogging on the court or on the track or on the mat. Sometimes you just got to keep your feet moving.”

Getting through this together, Atascadero