When Karreem Hogan was 9 years old, he would have been more than happy to fix your VCR. The small wonder, a fan of 1980s television shows MacGyver and Mr. Wizards World, started disassembling and reassembling his parents old audio-visual equipment (without their permission) at age 6 and eventually parlayed his captivating hobby into an electrical engineering career.
"I was fascinated with electronics and how they worked," he said. "I once took the top off my parents brand new VCR, just to watch the wheels inside turn and see what was connected to what and how things worked."
Now a radio science systems analyst for NASAs Saturn-bound Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, Hogan, 27, spends his summers analyzing frequencies at JPL. Cassini sends radio signals that pass through various mediums. Any fluctuations in a signal may reveal characteristics about the signal's path; for example, if the signal passes through a planets atmosphere, it may reflect what the atmosphere is like. Hogan helps process data from the spacecraft by comparing the radio signals sent from JPL to Cassini with signals the spacecraft sends back.
The Cassini spacecraft will reach Saturn in July 2004.
"My job basically consists of looking at graphs and plotting data," he said. "It involves a lot of analytical skills because sometimes I get random files of information and I need to research it and figure out how to translate it from numbers to visual references."
Hogan has been a summer scholar at JPL for two years. The laboratory recruited him from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where he obtained his bachelors and masters degrees, both in electrical engineering. He is now a teaching assistant at the university, pursuing a doctorate degree in electrical engineering with an emphasis in signal processing and communication.
"Being a teaching assistant solidifies my knowledge of what I do," said Hogan, who has taught advanced laboratory classes on applied circuits for four semesters. "My main goal is to make sure the students learn the material, but I also get something from teaching in that it confirms what I know and helps me identify my weaknesses."
Karreem Hogan analyzes radio signals from the Cassini spacecraft.
This summer, Hogan is part of the JPL Minority Education Initiative Program, which provides minority university students and education communities with access to opportunities at the laboratory. After finishing his studies, he plans to secure more work in the engineering industry and eventually teach at an historically black engineering college. "I want to make contacts and create opportunities for others," he said.
Born and raised in Philadelphia and North Carolina, Hogan excelled in school, developing major interests in math and science. After high school, he turned down a full scholarship to Penn State University and acceptance to North Carolina State University to attend North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. There, he felt he could make a difference for minorities and contribute to a historically black university.
Hogan, who also harbored a childhood dream of becoming a pilot, joined the Army Reserves at age 19. He graduated from training with top honors and served as a parachute rigger and paratrooper for the 82nd airborne division at Fort Bragg, N.C. "The education path was always going to be there, so I wanted to get some life experience first," he said. "The Army Reserves was like a crash course in maturing. Now I can say I deliberately jumped out of a plane."
Hogans military experiences also prepared him for an engineering career by teaching him to pay attention to detail. "I learned that a small mistake can lead to disaster," he said. "Every detail counts. There is zero margin for error."
Speaking of disasters, the question beckons: Did Hogans parents ever get mad at him for taking apart their stuff? An enigmatic grin spreads across Hogans face as he delivers his answer: "By the time they found out, I knew how to fix a lot of things," he said. "They were more than happy to have an in-house repairman."