A love of science leads to career with NASA

Marissa Johnsey Stewart looking up

A love of science leads to career with NASA

G rowing up, Marissa Johnsey Stewart, ’12, was fascinated with science. So much so that she wanted to work for NASA. With the education she received from Georgia College and plenty of on-the-job training, she became a contamination control engineer with NASA at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Her journey at NASA began seven years ago, when she became a scientist.

“I wanted to be a scientist, because there are so many unknowns out there,” she said. “Science helps us learn new things about the world we live in, and it is so fascinating to me.” 

Through the years, Stewart collaborated with multiple groups and worked on challenging projects to become the engineer she is today. She worked in a chemistry lab, biology lab, corrosion lab, electrical engineering lab and now works in a materials and processes lab.

“It’s been amazing to be involved in so many different areas,” she said.  “I essentially worked my way through all these labs and became an engineer in the process.” 

 Marissa Johnsey Stewart watches a rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center press site. The Vehicle Assembly Building is in the background.
Marissa Johnsey Stewart watches a rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center press site. The Vehicle Assembly Building is in the background.


As she grew up, Stewart always talked about working for NASA, but never actually imagined she would end up there.

“My main reason for wanting to work for NASA was because of the work they do,” she said. “No work NASA does is boring. It’s all about exploration and learning new things about this world and others in our solar system.” 

Stewart landed an internship with NASA working in a lab shortly after graduating from Georgia College.

“I worked on an amazing project with incredible mentors,” she said. “After the internship, all I wanted was to be back at Kennedy Space Center. I knew it was where I was meant to be, so I looked for jobs there, every single day.”

In December 2012, an entry-level chemist position at NASA opened. Stewart had met many workers during her internship. She emailed one of them about the position and told her friend at NASA she had applied for the job and was very interested in it. 

“I thought, ‘This is it. If I don’t get this job, I may never work at NASA again,’” she said. “So, I let that really push me.” 

She had two interviews for the position and started working full-time for NASA January 2013. 

“One of the main take-aways from that hiring experience for me was it really matters who you make contact with and what kind of impression you leave on people,” she said. “I hate the saying, ‘It’s all about who you know.’ But, in this case it truly helped me, because this NASA employee recognized my enthusiasm and work ethic and knew I would be a good fit for the position.” 

Stewart also credits the Career Center at Georgia College for refining her interviewing skills. 

“The Career Center helped me significantly with my interviewing skills,” she said. “Without the initial interviews that it set up for me, I’m not sure I would have had enough practice to improve the interviewing process.” 

Her chemistry classes, especially the lab, benefitted Stewart from the beginning. The hands-on experience taught her the basics of how to run experiments. 

“I’ve worked with a lot of laboratory instrumentation and most of what I know I learned at Georgia College,” Stewart said. “I use an ultraviolet-visible spectrophotometer at work, which is one of the instruments I learned to use at Georgia College. I use my knowledge I learned there every single day at work.”

Also, during her time at Georgia College, Stewart served as secretary of the Chemistry Club. It helped ease the once-shy Stewart out of her comfort zone.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an astrophysicist or a logistics specialist, every person out there is working towards the same goal of going to space. It really connects us,” she said. “We want everyone to succeed, because we want to see more space travel and what innovations and good it can bring to us on Earth.”


“We ran a lot of fun activities during National Chemistry Week, where we interacted with lots of children and students on campus,” she said. “This experience helped me become more outgoing.”

Dr. Catrena Lisse was Stewart’s research advisor and mentor. She teaches her students to be hands-on scientists. Stewart remembers opening one of the gas chromatographs to do a repair. She was a little nervous working with such an expensive instrument and learning how it functioned.

“Dr. Lisse coached me and believed in me all the way through graduation, even when I didn’t believe in myself,” she said. 

Lisse also helped Stewart become comfortable with speaking in front of highly esteemed people. As part of her senior exit, she presented research to all her GC chemistry professors.

“I was worried that I would never graduate, because I couldn’t imagine speaking in front of this extremely intelligent group of people,” Stewart said. “Somehow, with enough practice and coaching from Dr. Lisse, I got through it and felt such a sense of accomplishment.”

“Today, I have to talk in front of my highly esteemed colleagues daily,” she said. “Without that baseline from Georgia College and Dr. Lisse, I doubt that I could be successful at it today.” 

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an astrophysicist or a logistics specialist, every person out there is working towards the same goal of going to space. It really connects us,” she said. “We want everyone to succeed, because we want to see more space travel and what innovations and good it can bring to us on Earth.”
– Marissa Johnsey Stewart

As a contamination control engineer, she ensures the KSC facilities stay clean for the sensitive hardware being processed there. She approves of materials being brought into the clean work areas, and develops work arounds if certain items are not permitted. She inspects for cleanliness of hardware and dresses in cleanroom garments, known as a “bunny suit,” that is necessary to enter certain facilities to do inspections. It’s exciting for her to inspect hardware that will eventually be going into space or to the International Space Station. 
Marissa Johnsey Stewart wears clean room garments (aka: a bunny suit) in one of the Kennedy Space Center facilities, next to a payload fairing.
Marissa Johnsey Stewart wears clean room garments (aka: a bunny suit) in one of the Kennedy Space Center facilities, next to a payload fairing.


“It doesn’t matter if you’re an astrophysicist or a logistics specialist, every person out there is working towards the same goal of going to space. It really connects us,” she said. “We want everyone to succeed, because we want to see more space travel and what innovations and good it can bring to us on Earth.”

Stewart hopes to make a difference in her field.

“I hope in some small way, by keeping our facilities clean for flight hardware, I can help us keep moving forward,” she said. “and learning more about space and what it has to offer.”