Notable alumni | John Herrington: Communication, analytical thinking needed in aviation and NASA careers

May 11, 2015
50 Year Issue

Audrey Jensen
[email protected]

The first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to go to space went to UCCS.

Former NASA astronaut and naval aviator John B. Herrington, whose ethnicity is traced back to the Chickasaw tribe in Oklahama, graduated from UCCS in 1983 with a degree in math. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Idaho.

He was selected in 1996 to work at the Johnson Space Center for two years and again in 2002 as the chief engineer for safety on the 16th NASA mission, STS-113 Endeavour.

Before working for NASA, Herrington also worked as a naval aviator and is now a travelling public speaker. He said taking a biology course at UCCS gave him the ability to be analytical and look at the world in a way to solve problems.

“That’s something I didn’t think I had early on. I developed it from the education I earned there,” he said.

“In my military career that is what I was called to do. Perform under pressure, perform systems and understand the mechanical attributes.”

During his first year at UCCS in 1976, Herrington said he was more interested in rock climbing than studying and worked full-time at the Sunbird Mountain Grill and Tavern.

A rock climber that Herrington worked for eventually convinced him to go back to school.

When NASA looked at Herrington’s school transcripts, they asked why he did not do well his first year in college and how he improved upon returning.

“I had a motivation and desire to learn that I didn’t have early on,” he said. “Just because you don’t do well at the beginning doesn’t mean you can’t do well at the end. You have to believe you have the ability in you to do that.”

“Getting a degree to me was the license to really learn. It teaches the fundamentals to get out in the real world and put it in practice.”

Herrington attended CUBoulder for a short time but expressed that he preferred UCCS’ atmosphere.

“I had a lot of good friends that felt like family and we studied together. It was a small environment. I enjoyed having friends and a common desire to study.”

Herrington remains friends with some of the people he met at UCCS and believes it is important that students value the friendships they have.

“One of the things I found in my career is that you can be a really smart person, but if you can’t work well with others there’s not a lot of jobs you can go into you can perform well at,” he said.

“Learn how to communicate and use your time at UCCS to develop those skills because that’s what employers want from you.”