NASA Acting Center Director Joseph Pelfrey Named Outstanding Alumnus at GSSM Convocation

September 7, 2023

HARTSVILLE, S.C. (September 7, 2023) – The South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics (GSSM) named Joseph Pelfrey, Acting Center Director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, as the Outstanding Alumnus of the Year at its annual Convocation.

Pelfrey, a native of Cheraw, SC, is a 1995 graduate of GSSM and has been working for NASA for more than 20 years. In July 2023, he was appointed as the Acting Center Director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where he now leads nearly 7,000 civil service and contractor employees. Pelfrey also manages the $5 billion budget for the center.

Pelfrey’s primary responsibilities at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center includes guiding the development of human spaceflight, as well as leading the charge in technology developmental efforts that are implemented in every NASA mission.

“Joseph is truly an outstanding alumnus and an example for our current Govies,” GSSM President Danny Dorsel said. “He is a testament to how hard work and commitment breeds success. The skills taught and learned at GSSM, cultivated an attitude that anything is possible for Joseph. As NASA strives to ‘inspire the world through discovery’, Joseph inspires us through his leadership.”

Throughout his time at NASA, Pelfrey has served in an array of roles. He joined NASA in 2000 as a systems engineer. In 2004, he was promoted to project manager, where he led the International Space Station’s (ISS) Facility Rack Project. Four years later in 2008, Pelfrey served as the design integration lead for the Ares I Upper Stage rocket. Pelfrey has also managed support to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), as well as multiple commercial partners in Space Act Agreements. Pelfrey is married to Nicole Whitlock Pelfrey, who is a member of GSSM’s Class of 1994 and also works as an executive at NASA.

“The foundation I built while at GSSM has been extremely impactful to my career,” Pelfrey said. “I’m extremely honored to receive this recognition in light of the entire alumni base and the nominees this year. GSSM is preparing the workforce that we need to return humans to the moon and onto Mars.”

GSSM’s Convocation is a traditional gathering that is held annually at the launch of the academic year. During the ceremony, GSSM presented 125 seniors with academic letters. A formal welcome was also extended to the class of 2025, which is comprised of outstanding scholars from across South Carolina.

GSSM 2017 alumnus, Abbie Bowman, served as the guest speaker for Convocation. Bowman is currently a second-year medical student at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston. Her career goal is to become an OB/GYN who focuses on healthcare advocacy and public health policy.

“Abbie’s love for learning and for research was evident while she was at GSSM and John’s Hopkins University,” GSSM President Danny Dorsel said. “I’m thrilled that Abbie returned to South Carolina to study medicine at MUSC where I know she will continue to thrive. Our current students and the entire GSSM community are fortunate to have such a wonderful example of a Govie as their Convocation speaker.”

Prior to arriving at GSSM, Bowman attended A.C. Flora in Columbia. While at GSSM, Bowman conducted her summer research on “Identifying Markers of Stem Cell Differentiation through qPCR Quantification” at Washington University in St. Louis. Additionally, she conducted research on “Using C. elegans to model the effects of Cystic Fibrosis” which was published in National High School Journal of Science. In addition to the friendships she developed, Bowman is thankful for the educational opportunities GSSM provided.

“Attending GSSM prepared me for many of the social and academic challenges one faces in college,” Bowman said. “I am forever thankful for the experiences and support that I received from my mentors and professors.”

Following GSSM, Bowman attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2021, she earned a B.S. in molecular and cellular biology, as well as psychology.

Bowman’s drive led to her pursue a one-year fellowship at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. She studied Hypereosinophilic Syndrome (HES), a rare condition caused by an overload of white blood cells (eosinophils) that protect your body from parasitic infections and respond to allergens.

GSSM’s application for its Residential and Accelerate programs will open on Monday, Oct. 2. Visit for more information.

- GSSM -


About the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics

One of the few specialized public residential high schools of its kind, the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics (GSSM) exists to push motivated young learners beyond their perceived levels of academic ability. Founded in 1988 under the leadership of the late Governor Carroll Campbell, GSSM has consistently raised the bar for STEM education in the Palmetto State. GSSM’s two-year residential high school program—as well as its virtual high school programs, summer camps, and outreach programs—all invite young people to explore the subjects they love in a diverse, inclusive, and uncommonly supportive academic environment. Here, challenge is viewed as a gateway to opportunity. GSSM students embrace the school’s rigorous approach to education and in so doing begin to realize their full potential. Learn more by visiting