Madison Telles ’19 is Making All the Right Connections
Madison Telles ’19 is fearless when it comes to connecting with people, organizations and ideas. The results are both extraordinary and world-changing, ranging from a chance meeting with space pioneer Buzz Aldrin to building global engagement in space programs through the Space Generation Advisory Council.
As long as Madison Telles ’19 can remember, she has been fascinated by outer space. As she prepared to become a first-generation college student, however, practicality was foremost in her mind.
“My family didn’t have higher education experience to draw on when helping me figure out the kind of career I could have after earning a four-year degree,” she tells us. “As a result, I didn’t have a very clear picture of what my career choices might be. I was interested in space, but did focusing on that make sense for the long term? I felt it was important for my education to lead to more than one entry point into the workforce.”
When competitive softball brought the Californian to the East Coast for a tournament, she decided to visit Stevens’ campus. “I will never forget getting out of the car and walking up to Castle Point, seeing the campus and the view. I was hooked.” The access to an exciting academic and cultural atmosphere called Telles on an adventure she didn’t hesitate to join. After stepping away from her athletic career, she pivoted to explore her passions in new ways.
Telles found her passion in the intersection of technology and policy, where the space industry and government interact, and expanded on her mechanical engineering major by pursuing a concentration in aerospace and a minor in public policy. “For me, making the connection between the technical aspects of space exploration and the policy and humanitarian impacts of that work became really important,” she says. “Whether you are working in a government or commercial program, the federal government and scientific communities want to be active in funding the creation of new technologies and acquisition of the data that emerges from them.”
After a brief stint as a launch vehicle systems engineer with Vector Launch, Inc., Telles joined Virgin Orbit as a systems engineer for safety and mission assurance, overseeing more than 600 technical risks over the entire life cycle of launch vehicle development and operations. She was responsible for verifying system readiness and operational safety throughout all stages of testing and operation of the Cosmic Girl aircraft and LauncherOne rocket, interfacing with the FAA regarding launch licensing and other regulatory matters for the platform. Telles further supported launch operations as a mission control center for all six campaigns at the company, including the historic setup of an international space port in the UK.
In 2023, she became part of the Millennium Space Systems team, a division of Boeing Company that specializes in high performance small satellites. “I have enjoyed a career’s worth of experiences in a very short time,” she notes.
But for Telles, success has always been about more than building her own resume. She is determined to help the next generation reach for the stars as well. It is a mission that began while she was still a student at Stevens. After a year on the softball team, Telles branched out by joining Theta Phi Alpha, serving as a pre-college counselor and new student orientation peer leader coordinator, and participating in undergraduate research opportunities in the humanities. She was vice president for programming for the Stevens Panhellenic Council and president and chairperson of the United Greek Committee, in addition to working as a student administrative assistant. She also joined student chapters of professional societies. In her senior year at Stevens, Telles supported the NASA RASC-AL student competition for her capstone project and was inducted into the Khoda Senior Honor Society.
“Things weren’t always in my favor growing up,” she explains, “but I was determined to better myself, regardless of the circumstances. Members of the faculty and staff were there to help see me through the highs and lows, and the Office of Student Life staff were invested in my pursuit of what I considered success.”
What stands out most in Telles’ college memories, however, is meeting her future fiancée, fellow Stevens alumna Kristine Pedersen ’20. They met on Telles’ first day as a Stevens student and are set to wed in 2025.
Telles also has especially fond memories of her time coordinating New Student Orientation. “It was important to me to help ensure that orientation was serving increasingly diverse incoming classes,” she continues. “There were more than 50 orientation leaders on staff in my senior year. It was formative to see my peers coming into their own and to see the culmination of their hard work. It was very special.”
Today, Telles is co-lead for the Research Assembly for Innovation in Space Exploration (RAISE), and she contributes her time to the STEM Letters to a Pre-Scientist pen pal and Skype A Scientist programs. After a storied history supporting flagship events with the Space Generation Advisory Council, Telles is set to lead the global Space Generation Fusion Forum conference as manager, rising from her role as deputy manager earlier this year.
“The Space Generation Advisory Council continues what I loved in my involvement at Stevens,” Telles says. “It is so fulfilling to witness the evolution of young professionals – to see their spark ignite and future opportunities open up to them. Through this organization’s programs, we can support the future of space and STEM professionals around the world.”
Of course, Stevens remains close to Telles’ heart. She has been an early career panelist and a Pinning Ceremony speaker for the Lore-El Center and was a young alumni speaker for the 2022 Wittpenn Walk.
“I love helping students and being a source of encouragement and advice,” she says. “Stevens students are very ambitious...I hope I can show them that their dreams are accessible.”
Looking to her own future, Telles is ready for whatever surprises come her way. “After all, a chance meeting with a former NASA historian led to a conversation with Buzz Aldrin,” she points out. “You never know what the next connection will lead to!”