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Senior story: Thando Nkala, Charlotte Engineering Early College

Thando is breaking stereotypes and wears a big smile as she pursues her aerospace career dreams. She is smart, loves to play basketball and builds model rockets to launch in her free time.

Born in Zimbabwe, she moved to the U.S. at age 5 and said she wanted to be an astronaut like many kids. Thando discovered her interest at a space camp, and after taking her first engineering course in eighth grade, she knew the combination of math, science and space would be her future.

Thando graduated seventh in her class at Charlotte Engineering Early College (CEEC) with a 4.53 GPA. She will attend the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) in the fall, majoring in aerospace engineering. She credits friend and mentor Cecile King with providing advice and support to keep her on track.

"She is someone who is always there for me," said Thando. "She helps me on my faith walk and in everyday life to keep on going and work toward my dreams and goals. She's someone that I can always turn to."

Thando is also inspired by someone she doesn't know, aerospace engineer Naia Butler Craig, and said watching Naia's career online motivates her to keep working toward her goals. 

After studying at Cal Tech, Thando hopes to get an internship at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one day land her dream job at NASA. 

"What I will remember most is the people. I think that's what makes the school (CEEC) so special — its teachers, staff and students."

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