I grew up in a large family, the middle child of seven children. My parents and grandparents were never remiss in reminding me of the importance of trusting God in all areas of my life and the significance of the opportunity to learn from every individual I would encounter. When I look back on my life, I consider my greatest accomplishment as completing my Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering after losing my mother to breast cancer during my freshman year of college. My mother was my cheerleader in life, the person who had the greatest influence on me. So the hardest thing for me was having the courage to continue with a dream that was born out of her hopes and vision for me.
As a young girl growing up in Houston, my parents exposed me to many different things. I loved the arts, and at a very early age I had a tremendous appreciation for theater, dance, and music. My love for reading and writing poetry and short stories stirred the creative side of my brain. There was a balance as well. I was very focused on academics and always wanted to be the perfect straight-A student. Early in life my parents taught me to study hard, make good grades, and always do my best. I was probably my worst critic when it came to my schoolwork because for me, failure was not an option!
I started thinking about a career when I was in grade school and always wanted to be a doctor – specifically a pediatrician. As I considered my modest upbringing I knew my parents could not afford to send me to medical school. That’s when I knew I had to work really hard and make good grades in order to be scholarship worthy. My love for education, clearly the influence of my mother, sparked my desire to be a teacher as well. It was my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. McNack, who made me believe that teaching is truly an art and a gift. I knew one day I would be standing in front of a classroom encouraging and inspiring young boys and girls. I thought, surely, I can pursue both career paths!
Engineering as a career never entered my mind until high school. It was my high school counselor and my mother who put me on the path to engineering. I always excelled in math and science, and my parents made certain as well that I was engaged in all sorts of activities from Girl Scouts, honor society, volunteer work, and other types of outreach through my church and the community. One summer, I participated in the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State, a nonpartisan program that teaches young women responsible citizenship and love for God and country. The summer program provides an opportunity for high school girls, who’ve completed their junior year, to spend an intense week of study, working together as self-governing citizens at Auxiliary-sponsored Girls State programs. Again, this was an opportunity for me to come together with young girls from all over the U.S. and work as a team.
Immediately upon graduating from my high school I entered a summer engineering program at Prairie View A&M University – Engineering Concepts Institute (ECI), which was my introduction to the basic concepts of engineering. I found it both challenging and exciting. What started as a spark of curiosity ignited a fire of endless possibilities. By the end of the summer, the only thing left to decide was which area of specialty I would major in – electrical, mechanical, civil, or architectural engineering. Again, as you might guess, my mom was my sounding board and helped me make the decision to major in electrical engineering.
The engineering school at Prairie View A&M University required that students complete at least one tour in industry. True to myself, I completed two. The first was with Bell Laboratories in Naperville, Ill., where I conducted analysis and did some database development for telephone trunk systems. My second industry tour was with ICI Americas Corp., a pharmaceutical company in Wilmington, Del., where I worked with a biomedical engineer conducting studies to track masses (tumors) on laboratory mice in an effort to gather data to assist with medical research in early detection and analysis of tumors in humans.
When I began to interview for jobs during my senior year of college, NASA was not on my list. One day, someone, I’m not sure who, asked me if I had considered NASA. I did some research and began my career at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in 1981 as a contractor working for Rockwell International assigned to support the Space Shuttle Program.
As I worked alongside other engineers, technicians and astronauts, I became more and more excited about the space program, and I really wanted to be a part of what I perceived to be a stellar team. There is simply no way you can work at NASA and not get excited about what is taking place here. The people are the best of the best, and they are dedicated to the space program. They believe in what we do, and it shows!
On my first day at Johnson Space Center, I was given a tour of the Shuttle cockpit simulator in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Lab (SAIL). As I walked through the lab and got to see the space program up close, I remember feeling overwhelmed. My contractor career at JSC spanned the Shuttle Program and International Space Station Program. I started in the SAIL as a math modeler, conducting analysis on flight simulation data; I moved to the Test Operations Center (TOC) where I worked on the Guidance, Navigation and Control (GN&C) console. I eventually worked in the Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) as a mission and scheduling integrator and later as a test manager working with the Flight Control Team to test and verify the reconfigurable software loads for the space station.
In 2004, I moved to the Office of Education at NASA Headquarters in Washington. At that time I was realizing my second career goal – to become a teacher. When I moved to the D.C. area, I was just completing the last year of my graduate studies in education. I remained in the Office of Education for a brief while and moved on to the Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) which opened many doors for me. In the Office of the CIO, I served as the division manager for the E-Government and Policy Office. While not an “IT” geek, I had a great appreciation for learning and taking on a challenge. My time at HQ afforded me the opportunity to see NASA from an agency perspective and to understand the inner workings of government. This career move was a blessing in more ways than one. I worked extensively on IT policy, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) mandates, congressional actions, and I had countless opportunities to see government at work.
In 2008, I returned to Johnson Space Center and began working in the Information Resources Directorate (IRD), where I have served as the office chief for both the Business Management and IT Policy Office and the Project Management and Technical Integration Office. In each of these positions, I have been responsible for leading and working with teams across the directorate, the center, and the agency. Currently I am serving as the acting deputy director/ acting deputy CIO. My most recent assignment has taken me more along a strategic and leadership path as opposed to the technical path. Doing so has afforded me the greatest fulfillment in my career – having the opportunity to contribute to the development and growth of individuals and an organization.
I am not one of those who has charted all the steps in my career, nor have I made a career checklist for which I’ve checked off all the boxes. What I have done is held true to the things my parents and grandparents taught me early in life – trust God, play fairly, and work extremely hard and always be open to the lessons life sends your way. I have discovered there are lessons in failures as well as in successes, and sometimes what we perceive as a failure is really a success turned upside down.
One of the saddest moments in my career turned out to be the most valuable lesson to date. What I perceived to be a dream job when I first entered the NASA workforce as a civil servant quickly turned out to be a painful disappointment that resulted in my resigning from the position. Because I remained true to the things my parents taught me, disappointment turned to opportunity – an opportunity that led me to where I am today! The greatest barriers I’ve discovered are those I created for myself. Challenges, circumstances, and individuals have only as much power as you allow. If you believe you can, then there is nothing you cannot do!
I’ve been asked what one piece of advice I wish to pass on to the next generation. For me it’s simple – trust God in all things; never underestimate the lesson or the value of every encounter you have – every person, every experience – good or bad; never stop learning, never stop growing, and never stop believing. All things are possible, if only you believe!
I am not sure what the future holds. I have not charted a next step for myself, and I take it one day at a time. I continue to be open to life’s lessons. I understand and truly respect the fact that I am not in this alone, nor is this all about me. I have a tremendous appreciation for the daily opportunities afforded to me to share what I have learned with others and to help others reach their full potential. I want to be remembered as someone who lived by my faith, cared for and helped others, worked hard and played fair, and believed that all things are possible!