Student Stories:  Jerry Yencharis, Jr.

Jerry Yencharis, Jr.

Jerry Yencharis at the Rendezvous, Guidance and Procedures Officer console
during the STS-131 mission in April 2010.

Jerry Yencharis, Jr., graduated from Schreiner in 1991 with a major in math.

When Jerry Yencharis, Jr. ’91 went to work for NASA in 1992, you could say he was going into the family business. His father, Jerry Sr., was in charge of the maneuver-analysis section for the Apollo moon program. Yencharis was born in League City, Texas, after his parents moved there from Wilkes-Barre, Penn., when his dad went to work for NASA in 1964. In time, he graduated from Clear Creek High School in League City. But before he ended up at Schreiner, he went to work for NASA right out of high school.

“When I graduated from high school, I decided I wasn’t ready for college yet,” Yencharis said. “I started working at NASA for a subcontractor called Barrios Technology. Eight of us went through a five-month course in orbital mechanics and space shuttle systems. We generated trajectory products for shuttle flights.”

After three years with Barrios, Yencharis headed to Schreiner College. He said what first interested him about Schreiner was its size, although it was an admission counselor who pretty much sealed the deal.

“My high school graduating class had more than 800 students,” Yencharis said. “I was looking for a smaller college so I wouldn’t be just a number among the student population. I had visited several places, but when I met Chuck Tait (former admissions counselor) and toured Schreiner, I knew it was the right place.

“With the small student population, I remember the family atmosphere not only among the students, but also the faculty and staff. Although there were days that I didn’t exactly enjoy going to class, I almost always enjoyed the interaction with the professors.”

Yencharis played on the men’s basketball team all four years he was at Schreiner. In his senior year, his 3-point field goal percentage was an impressive 56 percent.

“It was a great experience playing on the men’s basketball team,” he said. “All the guys I played with were such quality individuals, as were coach Herbst and coach Jost. I remember being fortunate enough to have Todd Prince as my roommate, and how it was impossible not to laugh when he was around. I still owe him for getting the rest of the basketball team to throw me in the pool on my birthday.”

He has a lot of other good memories of his time at Schreiner, including meeting his future wife here. “Although my wife and I are now divorced, we are still good friends,” he said. “She has been a very important part of my life. I look back on our time together at Schreiner very fondly and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“I also remember simple things, such as walking from Delaney Hall to class, and soaking in the atmosphere of the campus and the surrounding hills. And I remember graduation—walking into Dietert Auditorium and how the professors lined up to greet us as we walked in. I specifically remember Professor Emeritus (Boardman) Chambers approaching me and saying, ‘Jerry, let me
shake your hand.’”

After graduating from Schreiner College as a math major, Yencharis joined Barrios again and began a career in flight design and dynamics, specializing in shuttle rendezvous operations. He now works in shuttle mission control at Johnson Space Center.

"My official title is Rendezvous, Guidance and Procedures Officer. That position specializes in the last 40 miles of a shuttle approach and dock to a target vehicle, usually the International Space Station. As part of our job, we need to know how to pilot the shuttle to docking, so we go through the same training the astronauts do for that phase of flight. We attend the crew’s training sessions for flights we are assigned to so we can get familiar with them and discuss the techniques in detail.”

Now that the shuttle program is winding down, he is making the transition to visiting vehicle officer. “In this role, I will help coordinate and oversee what happens when a manned or unmanned spacecraft approaches the ISS. It’s similar to my previous role, but it involves working with non-NASA organizations, such as the Japanese Space Agency.”

Yencharis said that Schreiner had been instrumental in his career in several ways. “There were courses that concentrated on developing skills such as critical thinking, which is extremely important in my job. We have to scrutinize situations thoroughly, both when developing techniques pre-flight and also when assessing potential problems during a flight. That’s important both for mission success and to ensure the safety of the crew. The teamwork aspect of my job is very important as well, since my role calls for me to lead a team and also function as a part of the larger flight control team. I developed teamwork skills at Schreiner in several ways, including being part of the basketball team. Each person has a specific role and depends on the rest of the members to fulfill their role. Plus good communication among team members is necessary to reach a common goal, another skill I developed at Schreiner.

“There are a lot of great things about the people I met and experiences I had at Schreiner,” he added. “I'll bet most Schreiner alumni feel the same.”

From the Fall 2010 issue of SCENE