Class of 2011 alumna Shannon Towey is out of this world

Ella Lukowiak

CHS is a place where some of the brightest minds in Monmouth County come together, with many of them having aspirations that stretch far beyond the classroom. CHS Class of 2011 Alumna Shannon Towey was one of those students.

Towey currently works as a software systems engineer for NASA, and in one of her most recent projects, she helped land the Perseverance Rover on Mars in February 2021.

“I’ve worked on web applications that are used by operations engineers to determine the success or failure of commands and sequences from the data we get back from the rover and the current state of the rover,” Towey said.

Although her job may seem daunting, Towey shares the same experiences as everyone else who has walked through the halls of CHS. She took Advanced Physics during her senior year and teacher Steve Godkin said Towey was not a student he could easily forget.

“You want to know what she did for her senior project? She built a horizontal Tesla coil. I remember everything,” Godkin said.

While Towey said CHS was always an encouraging environment to be in, she said her experience as a female physics major at the University of Chicago was much different.

“In college, physics was pretty rough… the physics major was only about 10% female at the time, so it was an interesting switch especially from CHS which is majority female and I was always very supported,” Towey said.

She also explained that she struggled to be anonymous, as her peers not only knew who she was but also how she was doing in a particular class.

“I felt a lot more extra pressure to be better than most of the class because I felt like I had more to prove,” Towey said.

In her current job, however, Towey works alongside a large number of women and said her department at NASA makes an effort to include everyone. “JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] takes diversity seriously and I’ve participated in outreach programs to connect with girls who are interested in STEM, which JPL encourages and supports,” Towey said.

The Perseverance Rover launched on July 30, 2020, which meant that this milestone had to be experienced from a virtual platform due to COVID-19 precautions.

“I had to watch the landing from home and the launch from home, and I think that’s kind of a shame. In the future, I’ll probably look back and probably be angry about that, but for now, it’s kind of what it is,” Towey said.

Despite this loss, Shannon’s achievements have no doubt made Godkin proud. He, however, explained that he was never truly surprised by her accomplishments.

“I had no doubt in my mind she would make it,” Godkin said. “Yes, I do get a feel for certain students… She was one of them.”