Merryl Tengesdal ’94 was raised to believe there were no limits on what she could accomplish.
Growing up, she watched a lot of Star Trek, enjoyed studying math and science, and dreamed of flying into space. As an undergraduate at UNH, she was one of three women to complete a degree in electrical engineering.
A Bronx, N.Y., native, she was drawn to the University by its diverse student body and smaller class sizes. She says her experiences here laid the foundation for her career.
“I had a great mentor during my years at UNH, the late Dr. Richard Morrison, a professor in the physics department,” she said. “He kept me focused on completing my degree.” Along the way, Merryl spent a summer performing research at the University of Maine at Orono, played a year of basketball and participated in the Air Force ROTC program.
After graduating from UNH, she took a four-day bus trip to San Diego to test to become a Navy pilot. She was the only one of five African-American women candidates to make it through pilot school. Following missions in the Middle East, South America and the Caribbean, she became an instructor pilot. In 2004, she transitioned to the Air Force in order to fly a U-2, a high-altitude aircraft used for reconnaissance missions.
Merryl, who also earned a master’s degree in aeronautical science from Embry Riddle University in Florida, has been deployed multiple times in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2010, she became a joint staff officer at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) J8 staff in Colorado Springs.
Now, as chief of the Studies and Assessments Branch, she supervises ten civilian and military personnel and is responsible for developing the Commands’ position on capability gap assessment along with the development and integration of senior-level documents submitted to the Joint Staff.
Currently she is working on the North American Air Domain Awareness Analysis of Alternatives. “The purpose of this study,” she says, “is to develop an international and interagency solution to address North American air and cruise missile surveillance gaps and deterioration while maintaining current capabilities.”
In recognition of her remarkable career, she was honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award at UNH’s 30th Anniversary Scholarship Ball in 2013.
While she still dreams of one day becoming an astronaut, Merryl is quite happy spending time with her husband, Kjell, watching their son, Flynn, grow up.
Ultimately, Merryl has achieved success following one rule: “You decide your fate,” she says. “Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s too hard.”