Women@NASA: First Internship Results in Career

on November 06, 2012 at 7:00 AM

When I started working at NASA, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. On my very first day, I was barely 16 years old. I was part of a high school summer internship program – my first job ever! Everything was so exciting – even filling out tax forms! I remember getting my program folder that held my assignment: the Procurement Division. Then I remember sheepishly asking, “what exactly is that?” I was taken to meet all of the people I would be working with that summer. Until then adults were always “Mr. or Ms. So and So”. Everyone was being introduced by their first name and I got so nervous because I didn’t know how I was going to address them! During my first week, I was asked to call the grants office at MIT to get some information from the office so their grant money could be processed. All I could think was, “I don’t even know how to drive a car. I’m supposed to call one of the most famous universities in the world and help them?” I very quickly learned that at NASA, even at 16, I was treated as a peer and respected professionally. It was a powerful lesson! Everyone believed in me and wanted me to succeed. I did call MIT, and I did help them. As the summer progressed, it was easy to see everyone as co-workers and friends, rather than “grown-ups”. My confidence in myself grew as I was given more and more responsibility. By my second summer I identified my own project and was given the freedom to plan and execute it. I did 4 summer and 2 winter break rotations; the maximum I was allowed. At the end of my 4th summer, the director of the division asked if I would consider changing my major from history to business so he could hire me as a co-op and eventually a full-time employee. It was difficult, but I knew I had to turn him down. As much as I loved NASA and adored the people I worked with, my interest didn’t lie in business. I knew I had to follow my heart, be true to myself and trust that if NASA was where I was meant to be, it would be!

History had always been my favorite subject and I knew that I wanted a career that somehow involved that. I thought maybe I would work in a museum or for the park service. The last two years of college I worked in the university archives and was hooked! I decided I would pursue a master’s degree in Library Science at the University of Maryland and become an archivist. When I got to Library School, I learned about the related field of records and information management. After the first semester I started looking for a summer job back home in Cleveland. And guess who was looking for a co-op in the field of archives and records management? If you guessed NASA – you’d be right. The odds of this job coming up when I was looking are about slim to none. Blessed. That’s me! So, I did something bold. I called the person who would be the position mentor and flat out said, “I am the only person in the world who can do this job.” Following my heart 3 years earlier had paid off. Being at NASA was meant to be!

Today I am the Center Records Manager and History Officer. I ensure that all documentation created at the center is organized, accessed, stored, and dispositioned in a way that meets federal and state regulations, NASA regulations, and quality standards. Having a complete and well maintained history of our center and its programs not only keeps us out of legal trouble, but helps our scientists, engineers, and management understand what we have done in the past and why. Many times this prevents recreation of the wheel, or can demonstrate an area of technological excellence when soliciting programs and projects.

In a lot of ways I can say I “grew up” at NASA. Along with my parents, the role models and mentors I have encountered at NASA have instilled and reinforced in me a strong sense of service, positivity, kindness, and diligence. I am so proud to work at NASA and very, very proud to serve the people of the United States as a Civil Servant. I have seen the shuttle launch, met astronauts, run on a zero-g simulation treadmill. But the real highlights of my career have been the times that I have had a chance to make a difference to others – connecting families with information about their relatives who worked at NASA that they never really knew, sitting with a retiree and listening to their NASA story, or organizing charity events through the Combined Federal Campaign.

If I could pass on one lesson to the next generation it would be this – find joy in every day! We can’t control the things that happen to us, but we can control the way we react to them. I’ve found that when you approach life with a smile and a good sense of humor, opportunities always seem to follow. Do your best every day so that when those opportunities present themselves, you are ready for them!