In describing her path from Mableton, Georgia, to working on NASA’s Space Launch System, Tiera Fletcher ’17 confesses to having a case of imposter syndrome. After a high school career full of honors and accolades, she arrived at MIT filled with hesitation. “The grades started coming in, and I thought maybe I needed to move back to Georgia,” she says.
Then Fletcher got a tip from a fellow student to study in Barker Library. “I end up walking into this beautiful space; the architecture was amazing,” she says. “I look at the ceiling, and the hesitation kind of leaves my body, because I realize that I have been placed in this amazing space, so I must be OK, academically.”
That moment changed the trajectory of Fletcher’s academic career, she told an audience of MIT Libraries staff in Bartos Theater on June 13 in a keynote speech for a recent staff conference. Currently the modernizations program manager and site project engineer at the Boeing Company, Fletcher shared the forces that propelled her to a career in aerospace engineering. Her talk culminated with video of the November 2022 launch of Artemis I, NASA’s uncrewed mission beyond the moon and back. Fletcher led the team conducting the functional and physical configuration audits of the rocket.
“Tiera’s talk really drove home the idea of defining your purpose,” says MIT Libraries Director Chris Bourg. “It was our hope to bring library staff together through a shared sense of purpose — ensuring open and equitable access to knowledge. Hearing how our work, our staff, and even our spaces can have an impact on someone like Tiera was so energizing.”
Fletcher credits early exposure to STEM career possibilities, support from MIT staff, and role models like Yvonne Cagle and Mae Jemison for helping her forge her path. As an MIT student, she worked at the Boeing Company on NASA’s Space Launch System, worked on defining rotations for astronauts in anti-gravity, completed structural analysis for an uncrewed aerial vehicle, and helped develop the outer protective layer material for Dava Newman’s BioSuit. Fletcher says contributing to the MIT community as co-chair of the Black Students' Union and the Black Women’s Alliance motivated her as much as these groundbreaking projects. “It all comes back to people,” she said.
“Tiera inspired me to remember and center who we are doing the work for,” says Darcy Duke ’91, the libraries’ program head for user experience and web services. “We are building our library services and tools for the MIT community — including rocket scientists and astronauts — so they are armed with knowledge to make a better world. What better purpose could we have?”
When she’s not working, Fletcher encourages today’s youth through mentorship, motivational speaking, and teaching. She is an instructor for MITES (MIT Introduction to Technology, Engineering, and Science), which provides transformative STEM experiences for students from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds. With her husband, Myron Fletcher, who is also a rocket scientist, she founded the outreach group Rocket with the Fletchers.
In 2021, she co-wrote “Wonder Women of Science,” profiling 12 contemporary women on the cutting edge of scientific research, in the hopes that readers will see themselves in these women. “The face of a rocket scientist may not always look like this,” she says. “But we’re out there.”