Case talent can be a marvel to see
We customarily tape an interview with our alumni award winners and create a short film to introduce them at Homecoming. They get to talk about themselves, with prompting, and we all get to know them better.
Often, these interviews offer a window on the remarkable breadth and impact of Case talent.
Marla Pérez- Davis, PhD ’91, winner of a Meritorious Service Award, invited us out to the NASA Glenn Research Center, which she has led since 2019. We filmed her in a cavernous room they call the Simulated Lunar Operations Laboratory, or SLOPE lab. It could be called the world’s largest sandbox. It’s where engineers test rovers in material that mimics the soils of the Moon and Mars.
Turns out we were interrupting the work of Alex Schepelmann ’09, MS ’10, PhD, the young roboticist who runs the lab. Later, his boss dropped in. Phil Abel, MS ’84, PhD ’86, joined Glenn soon after earning his advanced degrees in physics at Case. Under Pérez-Davis, they and their 3,000 colleagues are helping Glenn contribute to NASA’s future missions to the Moon and beyond.
She’s a slight woman with a bright smile who radiates energy. She rose through the engineering ranks to become the first Puerto Rican to lead a NASA research center. She’s also the first space scientist from Adjuntas, a tiny town in the coffee growing hills of Puerto Rico. There, she alone vowed to become an engineer after reading a job description in an encyclopedia.
A doctorate in chemical engineering from Case was the crowning touch.
Pérez-Davis retired this summer after nearly 40 years with NASA. She said she hopes to devote more time guiding young people toward careers in STEM, so that they, too, can experience the thrill of science and discovery. Like all of our award winners, she’s looking to help the next generation.
As we honor these remarkable alumni, we honor a Case tradition — that drive to achieve and to share.
Robert L. Smith