Engineering Future History

Joan Marie Tubungbanua ’22

Joan Marie Tubungbanua ’22, a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), recalls an important lesson she learned at Stevens. “When I was new to college, I got involved in too many things,” she recalls. “To keep my head above water, I had to understand this: In order to produce quality work, you have to prioritize.” 

Not an easy task for an exuberant Manila-born Filipina who arrived in Jersey City, New Jersey, at the age of 7 with much to discover about her new home. She learned English (and how to manage northeastern winters) in the company of a couple of gregarious aunties “who forced me to sing karaoke and dance at every Filipino party I went to,” she says. From this, she says, developing a passion for performance was inevitable. 

As a musical theater major at High Tech High School in Secaucus, New Jersey, she also loved math and science. Then, in the summer of her sophomore year, she discovered computer science at the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program in New York City, where she spent seven weeks learning the foundations of coding. 

Tubungbanua arrived at Stevens not sure where her many interests would lead her. Before long, a connection forged at an academic conference led to summer work on NASA’s Artemis II project (which is scheduled to send a crew of four astronauts around the moon and back in Fall 2025).  

The experience brought new focus to her life and career aspirations. After graduating in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, Tubungbanua began work as an avionics testbed systems engineer for the Psyche and Europa Clipper missions at JPL in Pasadena, California. She is also pursuing a master’s degree in computer engineering at the University of Southern California. 

In her role, she writes code for data analysis aimed at making sure that spacecraft hardware functions as it is designed, under a variety of conditions. The lab’s Flight System Testbed Facility allows engineers to bring subsystems — or the entire spacecraft — to a designated station to run tests that reduce costs, shorten schedules and resolve unforeseen problems prior to launch. 

“The fact that I’ve worked on these projects that will be part of  science history just amazes me,” says Tubungbanua. “Both [Psyche and Europa Clipper] are scientific probes that will each take six years to get to their destinations. This is work for the future.” 

Mike Field