This is one among a collection of videos and essays from women who contribute to NASA’s mission. They are part of the agency’s efforts to create a collaborative and supportive community of women at the agency, inspire girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and to encourage openness and accountability at NASA.
I wish that I could say that I knew early on in life that I wanted to become a scientist or engineer. That would not be the true. My career goals changed a lot when I was growing up. During high school, I thought I wanted to become a Supreme Court judge. Then one day my father suggested that I pursue a career in engineering; and, because my father was the most intelligent person in the world, I did just what he suggested.
Dad knew that I was good in math and enjoyed trying to figure out how things work. So, in my senior year of high school, I adjusted my career plans and pursued engineering. Well, to make a long story short, I am an engineer and I really enjoy what I do. I guess the moral of the story is not to sweat the career thing. Take your time to decide what you want to do, determine what things you are good at and use that as a tool to decide your career goals.
I attended Hampton University for undergraduate and graduate school. A NASA scholarship funded my graduate school education and the research that I did in graduate school was directly related to the research that was being performed at the High Energy Science branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Performing research that was useful for NASA was really kind of heady and I was very thankful for the opportunity. I had heard of NASA, of course, and felt really lucky to be working indirectly for such a prestigious organization.
One of the greatest benefits of having a career at NASA is being able to take advantage of its many opportunities. Some of them include professional development and a chance to work with the best and brightest people in the world. I’ve been able to work with many people with diverse technical disciplines. I have had the opportunity to work with experts at Langley Research Center and across the Agency.
Identifying technologies that enable human spaceflight is exciting. Building solid-state lasers used to perform active remote sensing of the Earth’s atmosphere was also exciting. Both of these activities are memorable and I consider myself luck to be able to perform at the highest level and contribute to the success of NASA. All things are possible with hard work and dedication.
When I think about all the people who have helped me along the way, teachers from elementary school to graduate school, professionals, family and friends it makes me want to do the same for others. NASA has given me the freedom to do community outreach through NASA’s Speaker’s Bureau and to mentor young scientist and engineers in the many intern programs at Langley. It also allows me to advocate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
I recently received an award from the Women of Color organization at their annual conference. The Women of Color also honors what it calls “Rising Stars”. They are young engineers and scientist who excel technically within their careers and making major contributions to their companies. I couldn’t believe it when one of those “Rising Stars” was one of the students I mentored during a summer internship. Wow, I was so excited for her and so enthused that she had the opportunity to work at NASA for a summer and she used it to be one of the best and brightest in her technical discipline.
The perception of scientist is that they work in laboratories by themselves and do not interact with people. They are thought of as “nerds” and people believe they don’t do cool things. Well, I’m here to tell you that is not true. In my job, I travel to all parts of the country to attend technical conferences and interact with other scientist and engineers at other NASA centers and in industry and academia. I participate in career days at local middle and high schools. I advocate the work I do and promote its benefits for the betterment of the country. And I believe scientists and engineers are really well rounded and cool people.
While the science and engineering careers are still male dominated, more and more women have entered in the workforce. I always encourage young women to pursue a career in science, engineering and technology because they are truly fascinating. During my term as a Langley Federal Women’s Program committee member, I enjoyed working with other women to identify and address our needs within the working environment. Issues like flexible work hours, childcare facilities and health are just some that have been addressed. And although these issues may be women orientated, men benefit also because they are an integral part of balancing family with career.
I often encourage young women not to put any limitations on their career choices. In this day and age, all career fields are wide open. I encourage young women to pursue a career in science or engineering, because it is one way you can impact society and have fun along the way.
Philosophy: “All things are possible!”
Mrs. Williams-Byrd has Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees in physics from Hampton University, in Hampton Virginia. Mrs. Williams-Byrd is married and has two sons. She enjoys spending time with her family and her favorite hobby is reading mystery novels.