Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 21, 2024

Humans of Hopkins: Christine Wang

By AIMEE CHO | March 14, 2024

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COURTESY OF CHRISTINE WANG

Wang highlighted that she learned about the importance of communication and teamwork through her work experience at NASA.

Christine Wang is a junior majoring in Biomedical Engineering and minoring in Space Science and Engineering. Outside of Hopkins, she has worked as an engineer in NASA’s Johnson Space Center since January 2023. In an interview with The News-Letter, Wang described her work at NASA, her experience as a Miss Maryland finalist and her professional fencing career.

The News-Letter: Can you describe the project you are working on at NASA?

Christine Wang: There are two parts to [our team’s project]. The spin-up part is where we take technologies on Earth that we developed to help astronauts live in microgravity long-term. We are trying to see how astronauts can live longer in space, now that we want to go back to the moon and then potentially to Mars. The spin-down part is using the technologies we develop in microgravity in space to help patients on Earth. That can be in the form of an organ transplant, where a patient can derive their own stem cells, send them to space, grow that organ and then send it back down for transplant. It's technically challenging and very expensive. We don't even know if that's going to work, but that's the direction it’s headed toward.

N-L: What does your role at NASA entail?

CW: [From January to May], I worked in Human Health and Performance, and what they do is space medicine. One part is flight surgeons, who actively contribute to making sure that the astronauts are safe and healthy. The second part is project management, in terms of sending samples up and down. We set up the swabs, petri dishes and any sampling material, and then [astronauts in space stations] swab it and bring it back here and we test it on [Earth]. Another big part is radiation contamination. My main task was to organize all of the radiation hardware and medical equipment.

I was in Singapore from May to August doing research. Then from August to December, I worked in flight operations. It's a huge division where everyone is committed to flying and maintaining the international space station. You think about circulation, life support and emergency protocol. What if there's a fire? If something hits a station, where do [the astronauts] go? A lot of this ensures that the crew is safe and the space station keeps going. It's very real-time, so you're sitting on the console with a headset on.

[The experience] taught me a lot about communication skills. It really put me in situations where if I didn't communicate something right, someone would be dead. That taught me the importance of retaining what I'm learning. Working here was a wake-up call that I really want to do this, so I need to not only memorize information but apply it and remember it forever.

Another thing that I learned is teamwork. I've always been pretty individual and introverted. It didn't really hit me how important [teamwork] was until I was working in Mission Control. There was an urgent situation going on that required many flight controllers to work together quickly and efficiently to prevent an accident from occurring. With the leadership of the Flight Director, they resolved the issue safely. The whole interaction made me realize that I cannot do everything alone — nobody can. 

N-L: You are also a finalist for Miss Maryland. Can you elaborate on that experience?

CW: We have these stereotypes about us [Asian women] that have been ingrained in America, like the model minority myth, and I didn't see a lot of Asian American representation in mainstream media. I think Asian women are amazing and beautiful, and I want to uplift them in every single way. I think we are often stereotypically categorized as very submissive or nerdy or quiet, and pageantry is the opposite. You have to be outspoken.

The reason why I do this is not only for more Asian representation but also because I want to be more confident in my own skin. Growing up being part of two cultures, I was really insecure sometimes. I'm not Asian enough, and I'm not American enough. I wanted to show people who aren't from my community that I'm here to win and I'm here to be confident, and I want to be able to encourage other Asian American women to do this, because I think our beauty and our intelligence should be recognized by mainstream media.

N-L: How did your career as a professional fencer start and evolve?

CW: I watched a James Bond movie, and there was one woman that went into this group of fencers who were all men and she beat up all of them. I was like, “Wow, that’s so cool.” I called the nearest fencing club, and that's how everything started.

I fenced throughout middle school and high school. I've been to five nationals and four Junior Olympics. I fenced at Hopkins as well on the NCAA team. I competed a lot [until] the beginning of my junior year, but because I went to do the co-op [at NASA], I wasn't able to continue. Coming back, I'm out of shape. So instead of fencing, I'm refereeing.

I used to get angry at referees all the time. I became a referee and got yelled at, and I [realized] that doesn't feel very good. It's very much a perspective game. [Referees are] human beings, they make mistakes, but we all make mistakes. I know how it feels as a fencer to get a call messed up, so I'm extra vigilant. I know it took [athletes] so long to prepare for this, so I want to be extra careful and make sure I don't make any mistakes. 

I also assistant coach little kids. I'm in the phase where I'm retiring from my competitive career, but I am always staying involved and making sure to give back to the community, especially for the kids who may not have [the resources] where they can compete and buy the equipment they need because it's very expensive. I want to be able to support them.

N-L: Where do you see yourself in the future?

CW: I want to be able to go into the field of bioastronautics, which is the spin-up, spin-down technologies I was talking about where we're using space technology to improve medicine for patients on Earth. Specifically, [I’m interested in] drug proliferation — how certain drugs interact with and impact cells that have a certain disease or [are] grown in space — but also regenerative medicine and gene therapy. This whole field is very new, and we don't know what's going to happen, but I want to be part of the group that can pioneer these technologies for patients on Earth.

N-L: Is there anything else you would like to add?

CW: After working in industry full-time, I feel like a completely different person. The whole comparison game [in college] was pretty toxic, but I was in it. Working in industry gave me the perspective that nothing is the end of the world. Please take care of your body. Please sleep well. Please eat well. We're here on Earth to enjoy our lives. Really enjoy where you are right now. Don't stress too much about anything. Your GPA is not the end of the world. I think that’s something I would love to say to my 18-year-old self.

Editor’s Note, 2024: This article has been updated to remove certain information.


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