Janis Campbell Chodas (NJC ’74)
Project Manager for NASA's JUNO spacecraft
Unlocking Jupiter’s Mysteries
As a young teenager in 1969, Janis Chodas remembers watching NASA astronauts land on the moon, but she did not have a strong desire to go into the space program until the second year of her undergraduate degree in Engineering Science at the University of Toronto. Janis says NJC was an inspiration for her career. “Before I went to Neuchâtel, I didn’t know what ‘engineering’ was,” Janis remembers. “Being at NJC, mixing with a more diverse student group helped me to understand better where my math and science skills could take me.”
Today, Janis plays a key role as the Project Manager of the Juno Spacecraft robotic mission to Jupiter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Juno was launched successfully on August 5, 2011 on its 5-year cruise to Jupiter.
Upon arrival at the planet, the Juno spacecraft will go into a polar elliptical orbit which will repeat 30 times, gathering science data on Jupiter’s atmosphere, magnetosphere and gravity field.
“By understanding the origins and evolution of Jupiter, we can begin to understand how our solar system evolved, and how the Earth came to be here,” she explains. “We are pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge.” Janis received both her M.A.Sc. in Aerospace Engineering and her B.A.Sc. in Engineering Science –Aerospace Option from the University of Toronto. She has been awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal for her work on the Galileo mission to Jupiter, the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal for her service to the Cassini mission to Saturn, and received the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for her work on the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity). She has also earned numerous NASA Group Achievement Awards.
Born and raised in Toronto, Janis excelled at languages as well as math and science at Leaside High School. “I always preferred the elegance and certainty of math to the more subjective English writing and composition, or the vagaries of French,” she says.
Her parents found out about the College from her Latin teacher, who had taught at NJC in the 1960s. “I had no qualms about leaving Leaside,” Janis says. “I was doing very well academically but being smart in high school does not always make you popular! I looked forward to the chance to go to NJC, to be in a peer group of students who were all bright and adventuresome.”
In 1973, the journey to Neuchâtel began with a one-week boat cruise to England on the QE2. “That was fun because we all had a chance to get to know each other,” Janis remembers, “and when we arrived in England, we toured around, visiting Oxford, Stonehenge and a few other sights. We all knew each other fairly well by the time we arrived at the College.”
Janis’ favourite trip was spending Christmas skiing in Tignes, the ski resort near Val d’Isère, France, the home of the famous Grande Motte glacier. Her family flew over from Canada for the trip. She also has great memories of the Easter trip to Italy, which is the only time she has ever been there. “My advice to current students is to take advantage of every travel opportunity you can while you are there, because you never know if you’ll get the chance to return,” she says.
Not surprisingly, Janis’ favourite teacher was Monsieur Schinz, the math teacher. “He was Swiss and that was a nice touch,” she remembers. “He did an excellent job and when I went into Engineering Science at the University of Toronto, I was really well prepared. There was certainly no skimping on the quality of math and science teaching at NJC.” Janis concluded by saying that she thoroughly enjoyed the enriched learning environment that NJC offered.
Janis met her husband, Dr. Paul Chodas, at university and he also works for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They have two sons, one of whom is a senior at MIT in Aerospace Engineering at the age of 22 and the other who is a 19-year-old freshman at Cornell, planning on majoring in business.
NJC is proud to include Janis Campbell Chodas amongst our distinguished alumni.