Brie Haynes is a future graduate of FTCC. She has always felt out of place and struggled to find where she belongs. That changed during her last year as a student at the College. Her story:
For years, Brie Haynes struggled finding her footing in life, even where she belonged. She grew up in Los Molinos, a small town in northern California outside of Chico. She shyly admitted how often she would get lost navigating her high school. It had less than 200 people – students and staff combined. Her grades made receiving an academic scholarship to college difficult.
“I slacked off in high school,” Haynes, now 29 years old, said. “I didn’t feel like I had many choices. It was work at the local diner in town or join the Army. So, I joined the Army’s delayed entry program.”
Her first and only duty station was at Fort Bragg, working as a parachute rigger. She wanted to be an animal care specialist originally, but her soft spot for animals made dealing with euthanasia impossible. After leaving the Army, still, she felt out of place. She enrolled into FTCC in 2014. She failed classes. She dropped out. Haynes felt she was failing at life. Then, she started to go to therapy to work through her issues and shortcomings.
“She made such a big impact that it made me want to make impact on other people’s lives as well,” Haynes said about seeing her therapist for roughly a year.
Seeking help is a part of Haynes’ journey she doesn’t mind sharing. It was a year and a half later before she decided to re-enroll into classes at FTCC.
“Because people aren’t perfect and sometimes, those people fall down and have a tendency to get lost really quick,” she said. “You can fail classes, and get back up and continue on and make it to NASA. Students can do anything.”
January of this year showed Haynes how true that last sentence would turn out to be.
“Dear Briana Haynes…”
Haynes initially wanted to pursue psychology at the College. She changed her mind after taking a class with FTCC Biology Instructor Benjamin Carlucci. Haynes grasped to his style of teaching. He taught how fragile hydrogen bonds could be in proteins by having students fist bump each other.
“Anytime someone is passionate about something, I automatically get interested in it,” she said. “I love learning new things. I’m going to end up enjoying it. Every time. Like a kid in a candy shop.”
From there, Haynes began taking more biology classes and changed her career path to psychobiology, which studies the biological basis of behavior and mental phenomena in people, according to Dictionary.com. She’s on track to graduate from FTCC this May. She’s applied to Fayetteville State University with hopes of double majoring in psychology and biology.
While taking a pre-calculus class fall 2019, she befriended physics instructor Joanna Rivers who teaches at Delgado Community College in New Orleans. The pair met playing online games, and Rivers tutored Haynes, helping her pass the course. Rivers suggested Haynes apply for the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) Onsite Experience, according to its website. The week-long learning experience invites some of the brightest community college students from across the nation to tour Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. They’ll tour NASA facilities, attend briefings on NASA subject matter by experts while learning more about the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.
The suggestion bewildered Haynes.
“I was like, ‘You just kept me from failing pre-calculus, and you want me to sign up for a NASA course?’” Haynes recalled. “She said, ‘Any scientist worth their salt works for NASA at some point in time or another.’ That stuck in my head. If I want to be a scientist of some sort, I have to work for NASA. Got it.”
Haynes turned in her application the day before it was due in December. Once it was accepted, she took required online courses and submitted a 10-page paper in order to earn a possible invitation to Wallops Flight Facility. Her research paper delved into waste management and space suits for launch and reentry for a mock Mars mission. She kept 30 to 40 Internet tabs open as she did her research while writing her paper. Haynes also juggle taking 17 credit hours at the College, too. A full-tune up on her computer happened shortly after she turned in her NCAS application.
“About halfway through the online course, I didn’t think I was going to finish,” Haynes admitted. “I thought about dropping out of the course, but [Rivers] told me not to. Once I got started, because it seemed really daunting before I started researching, I just wanted to keep going.”
An email from NCAS came in January. The first few lines read,
“Dear Briana Haynes,
Congratulations! You are invited to a NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) Onsite Experience at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, VA on March 2-6, 2020.”
The first person she called? Her dad. Haynes describes herself as a “big time daddy’s girl.”
“It was mostly a lot of screaming and squealing and pacing for two hours on the phone with everybody that I got in,” she said, noting the acceptance letter showed her something about herself. “It told me I’m actually a grown up, buckling down and doing what I need to do.”
Among the list of those she told about the acceptance was Carlucci, who wrote her recommendation letter, and FTCC English instructor Vicki Derka. She helped Haynes with formatting her research paper.
“Everybody at FTCC is ridiculously supportive, even the ladies in the Financial Aid Office as I could not have gone back to school without the grant I got,” Haynes said. “You want to be a scientist? We’re going to support you. You want to do astrophysics and be a ballerina at the same time? We’re going to support you. I’ve never been kicked down once.”
Finding where she belongs
Haynes decided to drive instead of flying to Wallops Island, Virginia. On the way, she almost turned around to come back to Fayetteville. Her fear of meeting new people surfaced. She thought maybe there wasn’t a place for her at NASA. She even questioned if she was smart enough to be around scientists who build rockets or astronauts who have been to space or seen their experiences with the space agency immortalized in popular movies and documentaries. At the moment, NASA felt out of her league.
“I’m going on 30 years old,” she said. “I always felt kind of lost and not knowing where I want to go or where I want to be.”
Students who attended the on-site experience formed teams. One of their projects included establishing fictional companies interested in Mars exploration, which required developing and testing a prototype rover, communications and outreach. She oversaw the latter and created her team’s final presentation. Her experience restoring an Old Volkswagen Beetle last year helped fix a design flaw in her team’s rover’s performance. She also learned NASA drops science experiments from payloads at various altitudes for experiments. Haynes was reminded of her time in the Army as a parachute rigger.
“That was really exciting for me because I thought I was going to be useless when it came to the rover,” she said. “And NASA did the same stuff I did in the Army.”
Also, during the tour, Haynes came within touching distance of a rocket ship used for launches to the International Space Station. She said her and her fellow teammates looked at the ship in awe. Their tour guide asked if anyone had questions. No one asked.
Later, Haynes and her teammates exchanged contact information to keep up with each other. They formed a group on popular social media app Snapchat. Haynes also took pictures of the facility and her teammates’ work during the tour. She owns a NIKON camera. NASA staff encouraged Haynes to develop her portfolio to include astrophotography, which is an internship offered by the space agency.
So far, Haynes has applied to more than 14 internships with NASA.
A turning point in the trip for Haynes came from one of the flight facility managers at Wallops. The manager pointed out her “natural gift for writing and speaking.” She paused recounting the moment. It was her way of keeping the tears from falling off the edge of her eyelids.
“I was told they’d like to see me back at NASA,” she said. “I was bawling my eyes out. I felt special hearing that. That week at NASA made me realize that’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m supposed to be working at NASA.”
Haynes said she doesn’t feel lost in any areas of her life. For once, she has a goal. She has a purpose. Now, she wants to help other students find their footing just like she did.
If you are a student and need someone to talk or help, FTCC offers Counseling Services in many areas such as academic, educational panning, personal, student advocacy and more. You can find contact information and more details about the office by clicking here.