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 have spent my entire professional career, 29 years, at NASA Stennis Space Center. Growing up, I never thought about working for NASA. I actually wanted to work in Energy Development. But, when my husband and I moved to New Orleans, I had just received by BSEE and a BS in Chemistry and needed a job. I answered an advertisement in the local newspaper and to my utter astonishment, received an offer.
My greatest accomplishment, in my life, has been my ability to balance work and family. I have always had extremely rewarding and maybe even a little too challenging assignments at NASA. I work in the test area at SSC, as a Data Acquisition Engineer. Because data is the primary product of all rocket testing, my work has great value. I have tested rockets both for NASA as well as commercial customers, making reconfiguration of the test area a real challenge. I have been the Lead Electrical Engineer as well as Data Acquisition Engineer on a test stand for several years. In that capacity, I am responsible for all electrical systems at the facility and their interface to the test article. Each test article and its customer have unique requirements, and making them work together and seeing the test conducted safely and effectively always amazes me.
But my journey at NASA has been unique. After the birth of my first child, I realized I could not return to work full-time as usual. I began to ask a lot of questions from our Office of Human Capital about part-time work. They gave me guidance and then I began to work thru my management chain. But, I didn’t get very far because they wanted me back full-time. In the end, it was the OHC who got my part-time approved. The OHC understood that a happy worker is a loyal and more productive worker. The lesson I learned then and have always remembered is to look at all the resources available to you and use them effectively. Be persistent in pursuing your goals and get help from knowledgeable professionals. NASA’s greatest resource has been and continues to be the extremely capable professionals that serve the agency every day.
I stayed part-time, anywhere from 24 to 32 hours per week for 18 years. It never seemed to limit my career opportunities. In fact, during that period, I was promoted several times and even made deputy of a project office, although I later returned to engineering. I have four children, the last two twins. I was there when all of them got on and off the bus. They all attended preschool at the Stennis Child Development Center, again, using the resources available at SSC. They are all extremely proud of their mom, the rocket test engineer. One is in graduate school at UCSD getting his PhD in Physics. The next is at MIT getting her bachelor’s in robotics, and the twins are still in high school, planning to major in Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering. I have learned that, if you are determined, and have professionals willing to help you, you can live your life the way you want to.
In the last several years, I have done a lot of mentoring. For the past 3 years, I have had college students working for me. For the past 6 years I have mentored a FIRST Robotics team (another way to spend time with my children) and now I am mentoring a junior engineer. I was told he selected me due to my technical competence, not my ability to get promoted. I was extremely pleased to see that others see me as competent, that has always been my career goal.
My career continues to be non-traditional. I recently requested an assignment that has me returning to programming, an activity I truly enjoy. We are writing new Data Acquisition software. I am not in charge of a group of programmers; I am a team member. For a civil servant with 29 years of experience, this is truly a step backwards. But, I have found that working on what really interests me, is what keeps my work fresh and exciting. Fortunately, NASA is an employer that understands its diverse workforce and what it takes to keep them productive and engaged.