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UMass alum gets us to Mars, and more


Robot on the rocky surface of planet Mars.

The Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Shoot for the stars, land on Mars

On February 18, 2021, people around the world watched in anticipation as the Perseverance Mars rover landed safely on the red planet’s dusty surface. But perhaps no one was on the edge of their seat more than UMass electrical and computer engineering alum Dragana Perkovic-Martin ’08PhD—leader of the team responsible for the rover’s landing radar system.  
Following in the footsteps of other UMass engineering grads (including Sharmila Padmanabhan ’04MS and Razi Ahmed ’06MS, ’11PhD), Perkovic-Martin landed a job at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory where her work quickly made an indelible impression.  
“The Mars 2020 mission came up and I was offered the lead role on the landing radar system engineering team. I doubted my abilities at the time, but I also knew that opportunities like this don’t come around often, so I jumped at it,” she says.
Her career path was not exactly linear. Originally, she focused her studies on telecommunications, but once she got the chance to work in the Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory at UMass, she discovered a passion for researching, designing, and building radar systems.
“Before starting work on my post-graduate degree I did not think I would be working on anything related to space,” she says. “Once I started learning and working with radar instruments, I realized their potential and how wide-ranging their applications in science actually are.”
Follow the rover on Twitter @NASAPersevere.



Bits and Beats

By the time Brandon Tory ’10 first set foot on the UMass Amherst campus, he had already taught himself how to write code and had built a computer from parts he found dumpster diving.
However, this programming prodigy didn’t exactly have a smooth transition to college life. After a financially unstable childhood and years spent in a homeless shelter, Tory viewed college as a means of escape, though he had never really been interested in school. It took meeting another Black engineering student—one who also seemed like an outcast—to find the camaraderie and inspiration he needed to apply himself. By the time he graduated, Tory was a straight-A student with a job as an engineer.  
Soon after, the reality of having a 9-to-5 position came crashing down on him. He wanted more. So, he decided to try his hand at his other lifelong passion—music. He moved to Atlanta, and then Los Angeles, where he won a songwriting competition run by Microsoft, Lenovo, and Timbaland. While the networking opportunities were great, it didn’t pay much. He then took a job as a software architect at Apple and rekindled his love of coding, and in his downtime, he continued to pursue music. That’s when he reached out to Jimmy Iovine of Interscope Records, who agreed to meet with him. Tory credits this meeting with inspiring him to start his own tech company, FORMLESS—where he combines music and technology. Today, on top of continuing to build his company, he works on artificial intelligence at Google—and is working on a new album.

Hear how "Seriously" talented Brandon Tory ’10 is in his music video:

Brandon Tory - Seriously