Growing up on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, Latonia Kirksey always had a desire to live her life as an opportunity to make a difference in the world. She was fortunate to have a loving family and the chance to grow up in a small and friendly community where everyone knew each other. She continually received encouragement from her family, friends, and members of her church which motivated her to try to make the most out of her life.2014
Cynthia Simmons remembers her fascination with space started early in life watching TV shows like Star Trek. Watching the first moon landing gave her more reason to dream of designing spaceships like the Starship Enterprise. At night, she would look at the stars imagining herself traveling in space spending a lifetime exploring.2014
“Absolutely amazing” is how Vanessa Wyche would describe her career at NASA. Having the ability to have a profession in one’s area of interest is rewarding, but being able to do that and work at NASA is pretty awesome.2014
Sarah Ruiz’s interest in NASA began as a high school freshman when she was challenged by her high school physics teacher to enter a contest. She won the regional prize and traveled to KSC to present a Mars experiment design—an experience which exposed her to the variety of amazing things NASA was doing, including preparations for the STS-61 Hubble repair mission. For the first time, she realized that doing “space stuff” was a viable career option.2014
Chana Johnson grew up in Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, and is a daughter of educators. So it probably wasn’t a surprise when Chana’s affinity for math and science combined with her curiosity about how things work to lead her to an engineering degree and, eventually, a career at NASA.2014
While growing up in a small town in Mississippi only 35 miles from Stennis Space Center, Pat never imagined she would one day be the Deputy Chief Financial Officer at a NASA Facility. Growing up, her family had extremely limited resources. Truth be known, they were very poor.2014
Tresa Mitchell knew from the time she was a very little girl that she had a devout passion for two things: drag racing and NASA.2014
Judy Bruner grew up in rural Ohio, where she developed an early love of space and aviation, which would become the cornerstones of her future professional life. Her love of space began as she peered through a small telescope in the backyard looking at the moon and then followed NASA’s journey to the first moon landing.2014
Quiana Reese was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but admits to not knowing that there was a NASA facility in Cleveland, located right next to the airport which she had frequented often.2014
Joining the workforce at the early age of 16, Cindy Leitell didn’t realize at that time that she’d entered into what would be her career.2014
In high school, when other students may have asked for a spring break trip to the beach, Tricia Mack asked to go to Florida to tour the Kennedy Space Center. She still remembers the tour and excitedly taking photos of the space shuttle launch pads (even empty). Years later, she’d actually work in the shuttle on the pad days before launch as part of her duties as an Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) or “spacewalk” flight controller and instructor at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.2014
Growing up as both a left-brained and right-brained child led Mary Lobo to excel in both academics and the arts, but it was her mother who influenced her to keep her artistic endeavors as hobbies and pursue a career as an engineer.2014
Nikki’s greatest inspirations growing up were her parents. Neither had a college degree but they encouraged her and her siblings to do well in school. From a very early age, she knew that she was going to college.2014
From the time she was a little girl, Michelle Haupt has loved flying on airplanes. As she grew, she wondered what it would be like to travel in space. She discovered that mathematics was her favorite school subject. These interests led Haupt’s decision in seventh grade to become an aerospace engineer.2014
Anna Turner’s first day at NASA was exciting. Every step was well organized and professional. She could tell that working at NASA was going to be different than any previous job.2014
Rula Coroneos was born in Crete, Greece and immigrated to Salt Lake City, Utah in her junior year of high school. Even though her English was limited, she understood and studied mathematics—the universal language of science—with ease.2014
As a child, Donna didn’t think about or plan her life toward a career. As the oldest of five sisters and one brother growing up in a home challenged with poverty, alcoholism and violence, her earliest focus became survival.2014
When Charlene Butler was growing up, she, along with many other young people, thought that it would be cool to work for NASA one day. Little would she have guessed that her dream would begin to unfold during ninth grade for it was in Ms. Butler’s freshman year that she decided on a career in the Computer/Information Technology (IT) field.
As Valerie looks back on her life and career, all she can say is “not bad for a farm girl from Wisconsin. ” She cannot say she ever dreamed of working for NASA; however, she is extremely thankful that her journeys led her here. Her career choices did not seem to be suitable for the highly technical science and engineer-oriented agency. Yet, she was never so wrong. NASA encompasses all types of disciplines including education and accounting.
For Monica Ceruti, the trick has been to learn how to balance work and family without compromising either. Today, in addition to having a rewarding home life, her two sons are on the road to having rewarding careers: her oldest son is a college graduate and her youngest son is a cadet at the United States Coast Guard Academy.
Before coming to NASA, Terrian Nowden worked part-time in the Co-operative Education Office of the junior college she’d been attending. One of her duties was to receive incoming calls from employers who wanted to list co-op positions for the students. When NASA Lewis Research Center (now Glenn Research Center (GRC) at Lewis Field) called to post various technician positions, she was very excited.
Dinna LeDuff Cottrell, whose professional life has been focused on information technology, believes “the key to increasing the number of women and minorities in information technology careers begins by mentoring future generations.”
As a child, one of Roberta’s favorite memories was when her whole family gathered around the TV to watch the Apollo missions to the moon. She vividly remembers when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong said those magic words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Although Tarrie Hood longed to be part of NASA, a “world-class organization in which cutting-edge technology was the standard and is created and used daily,” she faced several stumbling blocks: not the least of which was the loss of her mother when she was 14 years old and becoming a parent at the age of 16.
Hashima Hasan’s love for space started when as a five-year old she stood in her grand parents’ backyard in India and watched Sputnik go by overhead. She had no idea how she would achieve her dream to become a scientist and attend Oxford University, as her uncle and grand uncles had done. But achieve it, she did.
The opportunity to explore Mars for signs of life is what inspired Dr. Jennifer Eigenbrode to join NASA. She wants to answer the question that has been asked for thousands of years — is “life” unique to Earth.
When Sabrina Thompson was trying to decide on a college major, one of her high school teachers informed her that the science and math courses required for a mechanical engineering degree would be too hard for her. Instead of taking his advice, she accepted it as a challenge and set out to prove him wrong.
Judy Ballance grew up on a rural farm in northern Alabama, and like most kids around her, she never dreamed that she would work for NASA. Her only childhood experiences related to NASA were watching the moon landings on TV and looking at an exhibit of moon rocks that came to her school.
For Elia Ordóñez, giving back to her native Hispanic community is paramount in her life. Ms. Ordóñez was born in Moctezuma, Chihuahua, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States in 1974.
To some, the way Anne Mills came to where she is today might seem like serendipity, but she would tell you that it was destiny. At age 16, she started her first day at NASA as a summer intern in the Procurement Division.
For Lelia Vann, moving forward in her life meant stepping back from everything she had worked so hard to accomplish, and asking the big question: Why?
Maybe it is not surprising that Deborah ended up in engineering. Growing up, she loved math and science in school. Algebra is one of her favorite things. There is also the influence of her family: her dad is an electrical engineer and her mom is a chemist.
Monica’s mother’s example taught her that hard work pays off. She was a single parent raising five children, and she remains Monica’s inspiration. From her mother, she learned three fundamental life lessons: to be true to herself; to be honest, regardless of the situation; and for every blessing she receives, to help someone else.
Growing up with six siblings, Annette Moore quickly grasped the appreciation for working as a team. Today she employs the principles she learned as a child in working with her NASA teammates in helping to accomplish the mission of the Agency.
Growing up, Victoria Garcia had a knack for being the “handyman” of the family. Being deaf and a daughter of Cuban immigrants motivated her to work hard to prove herself. Today, she uses her problem solving skills performing analysis as a system engineer.
For Toni Mumford, a “positive attitude and a willingness to take risks” … really paid off in career at NASA
Jennifer Heldmann studies recent water on Mars through spacecraft data analysis, numerical modeling, and fieldwork in Mars-analog environments. Perhaps more exciting for her personally are her studies into the moon, with “a focus on improving our understanding of the lunar poles.”
Taking advantage of opportunities and challenges has been the mantra for Julie Williams-Byrd’s career at NASA. These opportunities have allowed Ms. Williams-Byrd the ability to excel and to experience the career of a lifetime by working on exciting projects and working with exceptionally talented people from a variety of disciplines.
For Darlene Y. Boykins, her path to NASA began as a cooperative education (co-op) student for NASA. Ms. Boykins was born in Washington, D.C. and is a native Washingtonian.
For Ramona Travis, her ultimate destination had little to do with astrology, and everything to do with commitment, drive, and a natural curiosity about our own Earth and what’s beyond.
Andrea Meyer’s life was changed irrevocably when, on one cold Nebraska morning while practicing emergency landing procedures with her flight instructor, her airplane went into a flat spin before crashing into an empty cornfield.
Maria Nowak’s search for a broader meaning in life took her from the floor of a 1950s-themed restaurant where she worked as a dancing waitress, to the esteemed grounds of NASA where she has taken a leading role in the field of physics.
Karen Rodriguez is known as a talented project manager. But as a teenage mom, she was often told she would never amount to anything. With determination, dedication, and the support of her husband, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from New Mexico State University.
Melanie Saunders found out, in the most joyous way, that “work-life” balance can be tipped – in triplicate – in the direction of “life” when she discovered that she was pregnant with triplets. Being the high achiever she has always been, Ms. Saunders found a way to put family first without putting her career on permanent leave.
When Loria West was 9 years old, she suffered the loss of her parents in a tragic car accident. That same accident left her paralyzed from the waist down; however, her new circumstances did nothing to slow her down
Linda’s earliest memory of space was hearing about the Russians and Sputnik and monkeys flying in space. The world was much different then. There was no Internet or Google. Television offerings were limited, but this was big news at the time. Little did she know that one day NASA would be in her future.
When QuynhGiao Nguyen immigrated from Vietnam to the United States at age 7, she didn’t speak a word of English and had no idea she would grow up to be a NASA scientist.
Being open to new opportunities has brought Amy Bower many great adventures. Growing up in a rural community in central Ohio, she explored the farm, the fields and the surrounding woods. She loved school, especially math and science.
Stephanie’s parents owned a dry cleaning business in Alabama, and it was one of few successful Black-owned businesses in the 1960s. As a child, she saw her parents and siblings work hard to serve the community, provide excellent customer service, and earn a reputation for quality work. This taught her lessons she used later in life.
For Cristine Dundas, eight years of waitressing was all she could take. She knew it was time to make a change in her life and go to college. Ms. Dundas started her career with NASA as a management support assistant. While attending college for her two-year degree in the secretarial field, she came across a flier about NASA looking for cooperative education (co-op) students.
Dovie Lacy, who first and foremost sees herself as a teacher, took a circuitous route to arrive at NASA – yet arrive she did in 1984.
At the age of 16, Tracy Caldwell Dyson—like so many others—found an admirable role model in certain teacher who had accomplished the seemingly impossible. “Christa McAuliffe inspired me to search and reach for a goal that I thought was unreachable,” Caldwell Dyson said, even though at the time she had no idea how to get there.
Wendy Pennington discovered her natural passion and inclination for engineering while enrolled in a mechanical drafting class in high school. While her love of drawing and design provided an architectural roadmap for her future, it was the encouragement and guidance of the teachers who recognized this young woman’s special talents that put her life on a trajectory that would land her at NASA, where she continues to be inspired and challenged to reach even greater heights.
The daughter of an educator and an aeronautical engineer, Kathleen Howell grew up in southern California with varied influences, among them interests in dance, mathematics and aviation.
For Crystal Leathers Jones, growing up surrounded by drugs, crime and poverty made her dreams of working for NASA seem unreachable. Through her determination, hard work and perseverance, Crystal was able to change the course of her life and blaze a path of success that her siblings and others growing up in similar situations could follow.
For Sharmila Bhattacharya, success is not measured by medals or money but by seeing her experiments flown in space, a dream of flight fuelled by her father, a pilot, who told her that being a girl would not deter her from earning a pilot’s license or from being “absolutely anything she wanted to be …”
Diep Nguyen’s life took a major detour on the morning of April 30, 1975, when she boarded a helicopter piloted by a friend—now her husband—with the intention of spending the weekend with her mother
For Misty Davies, it was all about making the world a better place. She grew up wanting to be a veterinarian, a writer, a mother, and a scientist.
As an engineer and a project manager working in aircraft flight research, Laurie Grindle is familiar with the saying: “You can learn more from failure than success.”
One of Nancy’s earliest memories of NASA was in 1969 when her mom anxiously called her inside the house to look at the television. At the time, Nancy assumed adults could do almost anything, and she wondered why her mother made such a big deal about it. It was not until Nancy became an adult that she finally realized what a monumental achievement sending a man to moon really was.
At a very young age, Heather became a very driven girl. Inspired by the Challenger disaster in 1986, she has turned her childhood dream to work for NASA into a reality. As a college student looking for her opportunity to work for NASA, Maliska participated in an internship at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.
Despite being a Houston, Texas native, Janelle Holt thought that only engineers and scientists could work for NASA. She was introduced to NASA career possibilities for business students during a Career Fair at her alma mater, the University of Houston.
Tahani Amer discovered her natural passion and inclination for engineering while watching her father fixing his car’s engine as she sat inside her small Egyptian apartment. While her love of math created a clear path for a mechanical and aerospace engineering future, it was great teachers and her father that encouraged and guided Dr. Amer.
For Corazon Millena, NASA was an ocean away since she was born in the Philippines. Her family immigrated to the US in 1975 to San Jose, Calif., where she immediately secured a job as a customer service representative at J. C. Penny Co.
While growing up in Puerto Rico, Julie Ann Rivera Perez never imagined she would work for NASA. Most people might say they could only hope or dream to work for NASA, but Ms. Rivera never even imagined it would be her who would eventually get a job in what is now the #1 Place to Work in the Federal Government.
Connie Snapp aspired to be an artist and a writer with the long-ago dream of writing and illustrating her own books. She would never have predicted that she would one day work for NASA.
Creativity and a sense of adventure have benefitted Michelle Mader throughout her lifetime. Growing up in Cleveland, OH she loved to read, draw, and write poetry and stories. Travelling around the country with friends she discovered the love of exploring new places. That sense of adventure brought her to the NASA Lewis Research Center as a co-op student while pursuing a management degree.
Robin Henderson’s life changed forever and for the better when, in her first year of college, a man offered her the opportunity to serve as a co-op student with Martin Marietta, then a NASA Marshall Space Flight Center contractor
Although Clara Wright had to learn a new language and adapt to a different culture and the age of 8, when her family moved from Colombia to the United States, she was always fluent in the language of hard work, perseverance, and integrity – thanks to the example set forth by her parents.
For Wendy Holladay, the trick has been to balance her large family of 6 with her fast moving career at NASA. To accomplish both, she spent 20 of her 29 years at NASA Stennis Space Center as a part-time employee. And, for Ms. Holladay, it has made all of the difference.
Born and raised in a suburb outside of Sacramento, California, Katie grew up in a close-knit family and had a very happy childhood. She absolutely loved school and learning, and when she was in 5th grade, Katie had the opportunity to attend a week of Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama which sparked her love of NASA.
Dr. Valerie Meyers was exposed to the idea of human spaceflight at family gatherings where her uncle, who worked at Link Flight Simulation in Houston, talked about his job developing simulators to train astronauts. Her personal journey to NASA began in fifth grade when an article in Weekly Reader magazine mentioned NASA would be looking for people with doctorate degrees in chemistry, physics, mathematics, and astronomy to work on a space station they were developing.
Debbie always wanted to play the piano. It was the love of her life. While other kids were playing outside, she was inside practicing. It was the same in music college and playing with the band. She missed countless parties, holidays, and many life-changing events because she was working. But the sacrifice was worth it for her.
Growing up in an inner city as a child born into a single-parent household, Nanette Jennings’ hopes for a bright future seemed hopelessly compromised.
Anne-Marie Novo-Gradac is a planner—one who puts an extraordinary amount of effort into mapping out what should happen next in life. So perhaps it’s a bit ironic that all planning in the world ultimately landed her in a career that she never dreamed she would achieve
Rhonda Baker knew at an early age she wanted to work for the federal government. She just wasn’t sure in what capacity. She had a great deal of admiration and respect for the such occupations since many members of her family served in the military and worked as civil servants.
Julie Kramer White demonstrated mechanical aptitude at a young age. She was the one who owned and treasured her toolbox; the one asked to fix the washer, the recliner or whatever was broken.
Dorothy “Dottie” Metcalf-Lindenburger, the daughter of two teachers with a love of the space program, has “The Right Stuff.” As a NASA astronaut who flew with the crew of STS-131 to the International Space Station, Ms. Metcalf-Lindenburger has risen to heights that make those of the Mile High City of Denver, in which she grew up, pale by comparison.
For as long as she can remember, Jennifer Cole has been “hooked on anything that flew” – from the roaring A-10 Thunderbolts and A-4 Skyhawks to the thump-thump-thumping helicopters that flew over her home near Willow Grove Naval Air Station outside of Philadelphia, Penn., to the space vehicles of her professional life.
Pamela Marcum’s journey to becoming a NASA scientist began in a rural coal-mining community in eastern Kentucky. A public school system weak in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum, and a lack of mentors to provide career guidance resulted in her path being everything but a well-chartered course to a pre-defined destination.
Catherine’s road to NASA began at an early age when she declared, in front of her classmates, that she wanted to be the first female astronaut. A young male student rebutted that girls could not become astronauts. Her teacher would have nothing of it, immediately looking at Ms. Bahm and ensuring she knew she could be whatever she wanted to be.
My interest in space stems from my belief that what we have done, are doing, and can do in space is critical to the future of humanity. Throughout my career—whether it was working directly for NASA, training in Russia to become a space flight participant, advising aerospace corporations how best to help NASA be successful, or having the honor of being the lead for civil space policy for the Obama Presidential Campaign and transition team—I have worked toward that goal.
Tiffaney Miller Alexander knew by the time she was in sixth grade that she wanted to become an electrical engineer. Sparked by her interest to know how electronic devices worked coupled with the inspiration of her mother becoming the first in her family to earn a college degree, overcome a battle with cancer, and her faith in God, Tiffaney believed she had a great motivational example of determination and resilience to help her along her career journey.
Wanda Peters remembers, as a child, having her cartoons interrupted by the Apollo 11 lunar landing. While it was an unwelcomed interruption at the time, those feelings only lasted a moment; however, the impression that the landing made on her young mind would last a lifetime.
While Neil Armstrong was taking his first steps on the surface of the moon, a 6-year-old girl named Huy Tran was climbing a tree. She wanted to climb high enough to watch the historical event unfold through a part in the palm roof of someone else’s home in Vietnam, and she achieved that goal.
For Mary Ann, her path to NASA began as a cooperative education (co-op) student in 1974. She hailed from the University of Maryland in College Park as she found her place at NASA. Little did she know that she would lead two careers, one at NASA and one in the Navy Reserve.
Christine Belcastro long aspired to become an engineer but, as a female, thought the door was closed to her. Imagine her thrill when a college counselor enabled her to cross the threshold into NASA as an electrical engineer.
Hibah Rahmani was born in Pakistan, raised in Kuwait and moved to the United States after high school. Being fascinated with the beautiful night sky, she developed a passion for science, space and astronomy at a very young age.
Beverly Girten knew at an early age that she wanted to work for NASA. Through her mother’s encouragement and her deep curiosity about science in general and space in particular, and her strong work ethic, she was able to get a solid education.
In elementary school, Jill was that girl who loved Barbies, but mostly because she was all about modifying and constructing new and improved versions of her ‘Dream House’ from whatever she could find. Her family spent most of their weekends sailing together on the Chesapeake Bay. Looking back now, she realizes that it was her desire to design and build improved structures and her respect for teamwork that led her to find her dream career in aerospace engineering.
Dr. Margaret Nazario began her journey into engineering when she was a senior in high school taking physics. While her love of inventing and problem solving provided an architectural roadmap for her future, it was the encouragement and guidance of the teachers who recognized her special talents that put her life on a trajectory that would land her at NASA, where she continues to be inspired and challenged to reach even greater heights.
Josephine Santiago-Bond didn’t grow up wanting to work for NASA. Having grown up in the Philippines, NASA was half a world away, and was something she had only read about in old history books, or occasionally heard about on television.
For Diane Sims, Hurricane Katrina was a not only a moment of destruction and guilt but also of belief and compassion in the human spirit. She recalls, “I remember having a huge sense of guilt because my house survived, and I was the only one in my office that wasn’t displaced.”
As a child, Teresa Foley-Batts really did not think about or plan her life toward any particular career. She was the oldest of five children, and after her parents divorced, the family moved from Nashville, Tenn. to Huntsville, Ala.
Seeming coincidences may not be accidental. Giving a lab tour to a seminar speaker led to Mia Siochi coming to NASA Langley Research Center when that speaker happened to be the head of the Composites and Polymers Branch who was looking for someone to support its polymers characterization need of the branch.
Rosemary Baize began her career in 1988, working as an aerospace technologist in wind tunnels at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. She supported tests on Pegasus boosters, was a project engineer and served as a facility safety head. But she didn’t stop there.
As the mother of three daughters and spouse to a NASA employee, Anita Douglas had to quickly learn how to balance work and family without compromising either. Today, in addition to having a rewarding home life, all three of her daughters are in college.
For Charmel Jones, the journey to NASA was unexpected. Although she strived to be an engineer since the age of 10, she never imagined in a million years that she would be, or could ever be, a part of the NASA family. Growing up in a single-parent household in Palmetto, Fla., Ms. Jones was faced with the stereotypical persona that she would not amount to anything because of growing up in an “unbalanced” family.
For Bonnie Seaton, the path to NASA was anything but straight-forward. She initially studied nursing at the State University of New York at Buffalo and after three years of study realized that nursing was not the right career path for her.
Growing up in a small Cajun town in Louisiana, Pam Bourque had no idea that she would one day become an attorney and work for NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center. As a child she loved school, and her parents encouraged her to work hard so she could get a scholarship to college.
Janet Petro took an impressive step when, at the age of 17, she began leadership training at the highly esteemed United States Military Academy at West Point at a time when women had just begun to be accepted into the nation’s military academies.
As a child, Ginger Kerrick dreamed of growing up to be either a basketball player or an astronaut. When neither dream came to fruition, Ms. Kerrick developed a fresh perspective – best summed up by the phrase “It just wasn’t meant to be” – and is today part of NASA, serving in the Mission Control Center at the NASA Johnson Space Center as a Flight Director.
Jeanette Le’s road to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California started in Vietnam, which she, with her parents, fled when she was 8 years old – leaving Ms. Le with the feeling that she is, in her own words, the eternal “new kid on the block.”
If someone were to try to keep up with all of Jill Noble’s activities, accomplishments, and contributions to the community, they’d need a more powerful machine that even NASA could build. They would also need a positive outlook, a strong moral compass, and an impeccable work ethic—qualities her parents instilled in her, early on.
Gwen Young was a military brat and moved a lot during her childhood. Making friends was difficult, but a young Gwen found solace in school, excelling in math and science.
For Karen Gundy-Burlet, Walter Cronkite’s broadcasts of the Apollo moon missions were particularly inspirational. The thrill of watching the moon landings and excursions extended her interest in aircraft to the aerospace field and a desire to work for NASA.