Rob Manning
Flight System Chief Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

My interest in math and science in the classroom didn't exactly explode. I was a mediocre student. But my curiosity in space exploration forced me to want to learn more. My teachers said that I needed to do well in school before I could do anything technical. On one of the pages of the Time/Life book "The Scientist," was a picture of the Caltech graduating class. It said that these people were among the best and would lead the technological revolution. I wondered if I could be like them.

I spent my high school years in the farming town of Burlington, WA. It was a great place to learn the ropes of rural life: machine shop, auto shop, farm shop, small gas engines shop, plastic shop, welding shop and lots of "ag" classes. We learned how to work hard after school and in the summertime on the farms and in farming industries. But we did not learn how to study. I knew that would have to change if I wanted to be an engineer. So it was with much trepidation that I applied for college.

I didn't believe that I could really become an engineer until I got to Whitman College. This wonderful place is a small liberal arts college nestled inside a comfortable corner of Walla Walla in the far southeast of Washington. They offered a "3-2" program where I could get two degrees (BA and BS) in five years of study - three at Whitman and two at Columbia or ... Caltech! But I needed to pull a decent GPA; I had barely made it into Whitman, let alone Caltech!

There is nothing like a good dose of fear to get the ball rolling! I studied hard. Very hard. I literally lived in the college library under a portrait of the great Indian Chief Joseph. He was very stern and seemed to encourage me to not lose sight of my goals. I didn't. Whitman was a fantastic experience and a few short years later, I transferred down to Caltech.

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