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Josh McCall
Josh McCall ’22 is a cybersecurity data analyst at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Photo courtesy of Josh McCall ’22.

Vocations: Reaching for the stars

Josh McCall ’22 has channeled his childhood love of space into a career with NASA.

As a fourth grader visiting the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Joshua McCall ’22 enjoyed it so much he didn’t want to leave. Now, his love of space is fulfilled with a permanent place at NASA: He’s a cybersecurity data analyst at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

“I’m part of the team that protects and secures the critical data that makes space exploration possible,” McCall said.

Long before shooting for the stars at NASA was even a possibility, McCall was an avid Science Channel watcher who loved learning.

After high school, he enrolled at a community college, where he focused on computer science, and discovered he was interested in cybersecurity.

By chance, he got to combine his love of space with his newfound passion for computer science. McCall saw a flyer on the floor of the computer lab advertising NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program and ended up entering the NCAS Robotic Competition at the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. His team won the four-day competition.

“Having some of the smartest minds in the world motivating and believing in you is a feeling unlike any other,” McCall said of the experience. “There I met … Haroon Khan, a scientist who studies black holes and physics. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and encouraged me to keep doing things, knowing that it isn’t easy. … I would’ve never had thought that my life would lead me here. …”

Bolstered by his NASA experience, McCall transferred to Cal Lutheran, where he honed his skills by majoring in computer science and working in the university’s IT department.

Supportive professors who served as mentors, comprehensive coursework in Python and Java programming languages, practical coding projects and the university’s technological infrastructure and access to research materials “greatly contributed to my education,” he said.

While a full-time student at Cal Lutheran, McCall also served as a senior project manager for two NASA ’s L’SPACE (Lucy Student Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler) programs: Mission Concept Academy, and Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience Academy. L’SPACE is a free, online, interactive experience open to undergraduate STEM students interested in pursuing a career with NASA or other space organizations. Students learn NASA mission procedures from industry professionals as they collaborate with others on mission-related projects.

After graduation, JPL offered him an internship to work on cybersecurity projects, where he learned how to use Splunk, a software security platform that “helps organizations explore the vast depths of their data, like spelunkers in a cave.” McCall assisted with tracking and monitoring cyberdata for two NASA missions, Mars 2020, part of the Mars exploration program; and Psyche, a spacecraft mission to the asteroid Psyche, a metal-rich asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter.

McCall, who’s never done learning, also is working on a master’s degree in management information systems with a specialization in cybersecurity management from The University of Alabama at Birmingham.

He’s aiming as well for a goal that’s not at all starry-eyed, thanks to his early career start at NASA: He wants to be an astronaut and is already working to obtain his private pilot license.