Although I wasn’t sure just what type of engineer I wanted to be, at an early age I knew that I wanted to be one when I grew up. It has always fascinated me to figure out how things worked, what contributed to making them work, and why things function the way that they do. My interest in engineering stemmed from attending enrichment programs within my county during the summers while I was in fourth to eighth grades. Through participation in these programs, I was able to start honing my math, science, English, foreign language, sports and technology skills at an earlier age than most of my counterparts. Of all these activities, my interest and curiosity was always peaked within the technology field. I quickly excelled in this field and it became my favorite because it challenged me to think outside of the box, provided me firsthand experience with developing and creating projects, and introduced me to problem solving. It’s amazing, but I can still remember to this very day working on my first project – building a model rocket. Although it didn’t launch just right, I remember being proud when it ignited and took off from the ground. From that point on, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related activities and projects became a priority in my life, and I set a personal goal to become an engineer. My goal was achieved when I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) in May 2003. Today, I am an Aerospace Quality Engineer within the Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) Directorate at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
Aside from becoming a part of the NASA family in July 2004, one of the proudest moments of my life came upon graduating from FAMU. When I graduated, I became the fourth generation within my family to complete studies at FAMU. In addition, my graduation marked another important achievement: I became the first female engineer within my family’s history. My family has continually strived and believed in educational excellence, but in over 50 years and through the many generations that preceded me, I was the first female engineer! Not only had I fulfilled my goal of becoming an engineer, I set a new record as well! I was ecstatic! Prior to my obtaining my engineering degree, it seemed as though engineering was a man’s field within my family. It felt great to break this perception and accomplish something that no other woman in my family had. While I was growing up, my family members tried to persuade me to pursue nursing, education (teaching), or business administration, but none of them appealed to me. This moment is one of the most fulfilling in my life because it was something that I earned on my own. No one gave it to me. I had to work hard and persevere to obtain it. It was also a moment that I could give testament to those that said that “I would not amount to anything” because I was raised in an “unbalanced” family that I could do anything that I put my mind and effort to.
Although I would go on to be the lead Qauality Engineer (QE) for the Calipso-Cloudsat, Space Technology (ST)-5, STEREO, THEMIS and AIM Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV) missions, being the lead for the Pluto New Horizons (PNH) mission at KSC proved to be the one of the happiest moments of my young career because it was my first space mission. It was a significant milestone for me because it provided me the opportunity to utilize the engineering tools that I learned in theory in school and apply them to real-life applications and hardware throughout the launch campaign. The PNH spacecraft was successfully launched on Jan. 19, 2006, aboard Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V launch vehicle from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. It will fly past the icy planet and its moons in July 2015 and shed light on new kinds of worlds we’ve only just discovered on the outskirts of the solar system by making the first reconnaissance of Pluto and Charon– a “double planet” and the last planet in our solar system to be visited by spacecraft. This mission was a high profile one and being able to function as the lead QE during launch vehicle manufacturing and integration at the launch pad, spacecraft integration, and launch was a prodigious feeling. As the lead QE, I was responsible for developing, implementing,and executing assurance activities and processes to aid in minimizing risk to flight hardware, personnel and mission success. Additionally, I was responsible for ensuring that the launch service contractor – Lockheed Martin, the contractor providing the ride for the spacecraft, possessed a healthy and functional Quality Management System that was capable of producing and processing flightworthy hardware per AS9100/ISO 9000 standards while also meeting NASA and KSC standards, policies and requirements.
If I had to pass on some key pieces of advice to the next generation that I have learned throughout my life thus far, one would be do not be afraid to set goals no matter how lavish or hard they may seem and work toward them. Another would be that you have to be able to adapt and conquer because life does not always go as you plan it to. Once you have defined your goals, never let anyone steer you off the path it takes to achieve them and never give up. You should approach new and different concepts with optimism and enthusiasm because they may turn into your passion. Nobody else in this world knows what truly makes you happy except you. Do the things you believe in your heart will get you one step closer to being the best you can be in this life and you will obtain it. After all, you only have one life to live; make every day and everything you do count!