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.2013
For Toni Mumford, a “positive attitude and a willingness to take risks” … really paid off in career at NASA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …”
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.”
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.
Jeanette Le’s road to NASA’s Dryden 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.”
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.