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Alumni Spotlight: Carla Messina ‘59

Alumni Spotlight: Carla Messina ‘59

By Rigby Philips '21

In 1959, only two women graduated from the University of Maryland with degrees in physics. One of those women — Carla Messina — never expected to travel off the beaten path.

“I guessed I should be a secretary or a nurse because that's what girls did in those days. Something like physicist? Forget it,” she recalls. “But my dad said I should get a job doing what I like, earning enough money so I could do what I wanted in my spare time.”

Messina was a top student and prestigious General Motors Scholar during her time at Maryland, and she balanced a job for the federal government on top of her schoolwork. She worked summers and holidays at the National Bureau of Standards, where she began studying the thermal conductivity of rock. Eventually, she decided it was time for a new opportunity.

That is when Messina became a hidden figure, one of the women hired by the federal government to compute mathematical calculations by hand. With that experience under her belt, Messina decided to take the first class ever offered in computers at the University of Maryland.

“I already worked on computers,” says Messina. “But I thought, okay, a course on computer programming. I'll take it.”

Her unique experiences opened the door for Messina’s impressive career in STEM. She demonstrated her skills as a mathematician, physicist, published researcher—even an expert typesetter—during her time in the workforce.

Messina’s UMD experience was not just physics and computer programming... She recalls her times in the Women’s Chorus and Chapel Choir as some of her favorite memories.

“I just loved singing my heart out,” Messina recalls.

She has stayed connected to Maryland in a few ways: she is a life member of the Alumni Association, and both of her children are graduates of the University of Maryland who followed in their mother’s footsteps by graduating with degrees in STEM.

Messina’s powerful story of hard work and determination proves that Terps can do anything they put their minds to.



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