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Looking for Hope in All the Right Places


Catherine Ragin Williams |
June 8, 2020

While the idea of “things going according to plan” has long been discarded for the year 2020, three reasons to celebrate are proceeding according to schedule in Jasmine Keeton’s family — albeit differently than previously imagined.

With the pandemic shuttering typical graduation ceremonies across the nation in favor of social distancing, Keeton, a Flight Operations Safety Officer in Flight Operations Directorate Ops Safety and Flight Controller in Flight Planning at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, answered a call for entries for The Today Show’s Virtual Plaza of 2020 graduates. You see, not only was Keeton obtaining a master’s degree in engineering management from the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) in 2020, but her daughters would be getting their own recognition: Jadean, a Bachelor of Science in social work from Prairie View A&M University; and JoyLynn would graduate from Turner High School with honors and an associate’s degree from Alvin Community College.

Keeton wanted a special way to mark the occasion, and The Today Show not only offered the opportunity — the family was selected to appear on the Virtual Plaza segment (watch it here). Locally, KPRC also picked up on the story and added to the well wishes.

The Johnson team has been instrumental in supporting Keeton in the pursuit to further her career.

“Throughout the process, my CK (Flight Integration Division) management provided a huge level of support,” Keeton said. “I’d just joined the team in the fall of 2016, and they were eager to write recommendation letters and adjust my support, if necessary. Also, in 2016, (now Johnson Deputy Director) Vanessa E. Wyche connected with me as a mentor and later nominated me for the Technology Rising Star Award. I won the award, representing JSC at the 2018 Women of Color STEM Conference held annually in Detroit. She and my CK family continue to support my career aspirations of entering into management.”

Keeton’s master’s degree almost didn’t happen, though, at least at first.

After Keeton graduated from Prairie View A&M University with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, she was “encouraged by my professors and peers to obtain an MBA (Master of Business Administration) for seeking career advancement. Upon entering the workforce here at JSC, I did not see the benefit in pursuing the MBA, but I knew I wanted to move into management and obtain an applicable advanced degree,” Keeton said. “I delved into my career and began a family with my college sweetheart, James C. Keeton, who also worked at JSC. After five beautiful children and the close of the shuttle program, I began to reevaluate my career goals while searching for employment options.”

Keeton began to search for project management master’s programs that also granted Project Management Professional (PMP) certification; however, during the first half of 2017, major life changes — including the loss of Keeton’s mother — threw wrenches into her best-laid plans. UHCL, Keeton discovered, was the only school that offered a program of both online and in-person courses to prepare for the PMP certification and a master’s degree. The only hitch was that to get in, Keeton would have to take the Graduate Records Examination, or GRE, for fall 2017 enrollment, leaving her a scant nine days to study. Keeton, with the support of her husband and kids, studied around the clock and entered graduate school.

Years later, she and her girls have reached what can only be considered the beginning of the next chapter of their lives. And while their recent honors are well deserved, what gives Keeton the most pride are the intangibles, like bringing up good people.

“My measurement of success is raising socially conscious, well-educated, determined and self-sufficient productive citizens to change the world for the better,” Keeton said. “I am a living example that you are never too old to pursue and accomplish your dreams with proper planning. Our family continues to forge through the day-to-day challenges with the world, but the bright spots we are grateful for are the spotlights that have spiraled from my attempt to salvage the non-traditional celebrations by applying to join The Today Show 2020 Graduates Virtual Plaza. We hope that our story brings hope and inspiration to everyone.”

The Keeton family, with graduates (from left) Jasmine, JoyLynn and Jadean. Image courtesy of Jasmine Keeton via Images by Papillon.