Jessica Watkins, ’10, has joined NASA as one of the 12 members of its latest class of astronaut candidates. Selected from more than 18,300 applicants, Watkins reported to Houston’s Johnson Space Center this summer to commence two years of training. “It feels surreal — ever since the phone call up until this moment,” Watkins says.

A recipient of the Dean’s Award for Academic Excellence for her undergraduate studies in geological and environmental sciences, the former Stern resident was also a member of the Cardinal women’s rugby squad that won the 2008 Division I national championship. She was an All-American in the sport from 2008 to 2010.

Watkins says she always knew that becoming an astronaut was her “end goal.” While at Stanford, she realized that her passion for planetary geology was the path to get there. “If you knew Jessica for more than five seconds, you knew she really wanted to become an astronaut,” says geological sciences professor Don Lowe, whom Watkins credits as a mentor. “She was absolutely dedicated.”

Watkins went on to earn a PhD in geology from UCLA before completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech. She is positioned to become the sixth African-American female astronaut, following in the footsteps of Mae Jemison, ’77.