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.
As a child, I really did not think about or plan my life toward any particular career. We lived in Nashville, Tenn., and I was the oldest of five children. After my parents divorced, we moved to Huntsville. My mother would often work 16-hour days to take care of us. Being the oldest meant I was responsible for tending to my brothers and sisters while she was working. Unfortunately, this was not an easy task because they saw me as their equal and not someone with any authority. In spite of that, I believe being placed in this role at an early age taught me some lessons in responsibility.
I began my employment at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center as a secretarial co-op student in 1981, the same year the first Space Shuttle was launched. I worked with a great group of engineers in what was then called the Propulsion Laboratory. At the time, I was oblivious to the importance of my clerical skills and my role in ensuring letters, engineering change requests and all those other propulsion-related documents were correctly typed and properly proofread for errors. After completing my co-op terms, I graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Secretarial Science with honors Aug. 28, 1982 – and three days later my third son was born. (That was cutting it pretty close.)
I was hired at Marshall as a full-time secretary, and after about two years I wanted to do something different. I also realized that doing something different meant I had to go back to school. So in the fall of 1984, I enrolled in the Business Administration program at a local university and began taking classes at night. I knew returning to school, taking care of three sons (my fourth was born in 1986), and working full-time would not be easy, but I believed it was worth it to advance my career.
I knew the importance of gaining experience while in school so I contacted Marshall’s Cooperative Education Office about possible business co-op opportunities. Fortunately, I was able to secure a position in the Office of Procurement during my last year in school. Though I knew nothing about the operation of this office, I was so excited about the opportunity, and willing and ready to learn. After each co-op term, I would return to school. Since we could not afford to be without a second income, a former employer, Huntsville Hospital, allowed me to return there to work while I was in school.
After completing my Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Administration with honors in 1987, I went to work for the Office of Procurement. I believe my determination to go back to school, in spite of real and perceived obstacles, helped instill in my four sons the importance getting their education. They knew without a doubt if Mom could do it, they had no excuse. All four of them have now completed their college education and are working in various fields throughout the country. Additionally, I have a stepson who is self-employed in Charlotte, NC.
I am currently a manager in the Office of Procurement and I have a great team that provides outstanding support. I have learned in these 30-plus years at NASA that people and relationships are the most important aspect of any job. Without them, the work does not get done. What I really like about my job is having the opportunity to encourage and motivate others to succeed. I find joy in helping others to see the importance of a positive attitude and outlook on life – no matter what! I realize it may not be easy to do at times, but I believe it is a choice you make daily. I believe it is my job to steer employees along a path that keeps them focused on what is most important and what will eventually bring positive results in their careers and their lives.
I love mentoring employees within the Office of Procurement and employees in external organizations. I also have mentored women in the community through the Women’s Economic Development Council Foundation of Huntsville, which provides educational, financial and social support to help women achieve sufficiency and economic independence. Currently, as a member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., Greater Huntsville Area Chapter, I serve as a mentor to young girls at one of the middle schools in the city. I truly want to bring out the best in them and make a positive difference in their lives.
My journey at NASA has taught me that the glass ceiling is glass for a reason – it can be broken. My journey and the obstacles I faced along the way have taught me to be thankful for my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned. I am deeply thankful for the support and encouragement of my husband, children, family, friends, coworkers, pastor and church family, and many others. I am especially thankful for my mother, who really taught me about perseverance and hard work. Also, there is one instructor (Mrs. Neva Bright) who, in her own way, encouraged and inspired me the first day of class. She told the class (all females) that she was going to separate the girls from the women. We started with approximately 20 students; by the end of the school year, there were only four of us left. So from that day on, I knew I was a “woman.”
Most of all, I am thankful to God for allowing me to experience this wonderful journey and for all the people and relationships encountered along the way.