A Seaford native has been named the recipient of the highest governmental honor to be bestowed on a member of the science and technology community. Alexis (Cornish) Truitt, a 2002 graduate of Seaford High School, was recently recognized with the 2019 PECASE (Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers) award. “The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology,” according to information released following Truitt’s award ceremony held on July 25, at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington, DC.
Established in 1996, the PECASE acknowledges the contributions scientists and engineers have made to the advancement of science, technology, education, and mathematics (STEM) education and to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, and community outreach. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy coordinates the PECASE with participating departments and agencies.
Truitt works as a scientist at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), specializing in space research and satellite design. She was among the recipients from across the country who were announced on July 2, by President Donald Trump. She was nominated for the PECASE honors during the final year of the Obama administration; however, the transition into a new administration resulted in delays in the presentations of the awards.
This left Truitt somewhat surprised when she learned of the PECASE honors. “I was on vacation with family and we were all surprised to see the announcement,” she said. “I am deeply honored to be included amongst so many other successful scientists and engineers.”
Truitt’s scientific work with the NGA involves support for US operations in what has become an increasingly complex space environment. The NGA delivers the strategic intelligence that allows the president and national policymakers to make crucial decisions on counterterrorism, weapons of mass destruction, global political crises and more. The agency also protects the homeland by supporting counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, border and transportation security, and provides support for security planning for special events, such as presidential inaugurations, state visits by foreign leaders, international conferences and major public events, including the Olympics and the Super Bowl.
Previously, Truitt served as a scientist at NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute, supporting Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions and the launch of the Kepler space telescope. She is the recipient of the 2017 Director of National Intelligence Science and Technology Fellowship, from the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.
The nexus for Truitt’s science-related success with both the NGA and NASA can be traced back to her early years at Seaford Middle School. According to Truitt, it all began with a middle school homework assignment.
“An astronomy lesson in science class at Seaford Middle School initially sparked my interest in space,” she said. “After a constellation mapping homework assignment, I came to class with a multitude of questions. It was ultimately my participation in the TRIO Talent Search and Upward Bound Math and Science programs, and the unwavering support of my family, which built my confidence in STEM to pursue a career in space. I find space research both fascinating and humbling, because many of the questions I had in sixth grade are still unanswered.”
While she was in high school Truitt spent time with Laurel Councilwoman Robin Fisher, who she considered a mentor. Fisher, who is married to Truitt’s uncle, has been a longtime family friend. She is not surprised by the many accomplishments of her niece.
“Alexis is a humble young woman,” Fisher said. “When I spoke with her about the honor she received and how I would love to let persons in our community be knowledgeable of her accomplishments, she was very concerned about disseminating the information due to the confidentiality of her work. Her response to me was ‘I have accepted that I often cannot get recognition for my classified accomplishments. Knowing that these accomplishments help to protect the USA is enough for me.’ I believe that says it all. Alexis is an incredible young woman and we, her family, are so extremely proud of her. The youth in our community, especially young African-American women, can see that they too can reach for the stars and help change the world.”
Truitt has obtained two B.S. degrees in Physics and Astronomy (with high honors) from University of Maryland College Park, and received a M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University. In April 2020, she is expected to complete a PhD in Space Engineering from University of Maryland College Park.
She said it is her hope that her PECASE honors can serve as an inspiration for young people. “I hope this award can serve as an inspiration for any underrepresented youth to reach for the stars,” she said.
Truitt resides in the Washington, DC, area of Virginia with her husband and daughter. She is the daughter of Seaford minister Monique Cornish, and the granddaughter of Diana Jones, of Seaford, and Otis Cornish of Bridgeville.