Women in Engineering

Cindy Koester

As a flight controller and astronaut instructor working with the Environmental Control and Life Support systems on the International Space Station, every work day is different for Cindy Koester. She could be working in the Mission Control Center sending commands to activate the oxygen generator and carbon dioxide scrubber on the space station, or spending time in the life-size mockups of the space station training facility instructing astronaut crews on how to respond to emergencies. Cindy credits her father for sparking her interest in engineering. She writes, “My Dad always said that holding a technical or engineering degree would open so many doors in almost any area you chose to work in – and he was right!” Cindy became very interested in how the human body works during an Anatomy class in high school, and from there, she chose to combine her interests in human physiology and engineering to earn a Biomedical Engineering degree from Texas A&M University. She says, “While I was fascinated by the science, what really interested me was the WHY and HOW – the engineering principles that affected our bodies and the world around us.” She is currently training two astronaut crews that are launching to the space station in fall of 2012, and in her spare time enjoys traveling with her husband – they recently summited Mount Kilimanjaro. Cindy has found her experiences at NASA to be the most rewarding of her life, and encourages young women to pursue engineering as a way to open doors to their own rewarding careers.

Alma Stephanie

I was born and raised in the 75% Hispanic city of El Paso, Texas to parents from Argentina and Colombia. Learning English was hard for me, so I liked math and science better and dreamed of one day becoming a ‘scientist’ thanks to teachers who made these subjects fun and exciting. As I got older I took advantage of participating in science fairs, science activities, and Advanced Placement classes in high school. After high school, I received a full scholarship to attend The University of Texas at El Paso. I decided to study Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, to get involved in many professional organizations, and to encourage and recruit other young Hispanics like myself to go get a college education. A great honor was to graduate as one of the ‘Top Ten Seniors’ of the university. A bigger honor was to be the first in my family to graduate from college. I went on to complete my master of science in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Florida. I realized dreams do come true when I landed “my dream job” as a materials engineer for NASA. At NASA, I work in understanding how materials break. Solving the mystery of why something breaks helps NASA find solutions to making safe spacecrafts. I also work in designing the materials used for the International Space Station and Space Suit. Get inspired to explore your dream — whatever it is. Imagine what it would be like to an engineer who builds your own space vehicle– or be the scientist who is makes important science discoveries in a laboratory. Not only can you imagine– you can find out what it’s like to do it! As students, learn about science, technology, engineering, and math–in the future your “job” might be exploring with us!

Carly Watts

Growing up in a suburb of Philadelphia, PA, I always dreamed of working for NASA. I loved learning new things and I couldn’t think of a better place to do that than NASA – where on a daily basis engineers and scientists make discoveries about our universe and push the boundaries of human knowledge. As a little kid, I spent hours outside in the backyard with my Dad, looking at stars, planets, and comets through our telescope and binoculars. I really enjoyed my math and science classes in grade school and had a particular interest in physics. It seemed amazing that over the past several thousand years, scientists have been able to observe the world around us and accurately understand how things interact (gravity, magnetism, relativity, etc.). Even better, from subatomic particles to dark matter, there is still so much more for us to figure out. I attended college at Penn State University and began working for NASA as a co-op student at the Johnson Space Center during my junior year. Upon graduating, I moved to Houston to join the Space Suit and Crew Survival Systems group, where I work on technology development for advanced space suit portable life support systems (PLSS). Recently, I led a project in which we integrated several technology development components with commercial-off-the-shelf hardware to simulate full functionality of our advanced PLSS design; then, we tested the system for several months to characterize the performance. The successful completion of this project, as well as the rest of my experience at NASA, has taught me that “impossible” is only a state of mind. “Impossible” just means we haven’t figured out how to do it yet, but with the right team and the necessary resources, it’s only a matter of time.