Women in Math

Kim Hambuchen

Growing up in a small southern town, I was relatively sheltered from most of the outside world. However, my parents made sure I knew that the world was completely open to me and I could do whatever I wished. I went through many “career” choices, from fashion designer to veterinarian to surgeon. Through each of these phases, there existed an underlying theme for what I wanted to do – solve problems. And not just solve problems, but use numbers to solve problems. Down the road, this led me to major in engineering in college, which I seriously considered dropping because everything was just so hard. Fortunately, I had a female advisor who convinced me to not only forge ahead, but also to add another engineering major. Little did I know that this very conversation would lead me to working at NASA Johnson Space Center with the world’s first humanoid robot in space. I spent my undergraduate time in biomedical and electrical engineering and my interest in image processing led me to the humanoid robotics lab at my university. I really enjoyed robotics and saw it as a new and upcoming field that could be very exciting. During my time as a graduate student, I received a NASA Graduate Student Researcher’s Program award which allowed me to spend time in the Dexterous Robotics Laboratory at JSC working with the original Robonaut. Upon completion of my Ph.D., I returned to JSC as a post-doctoral researcher, creating software that would allow Robonaut to “think” for itself. I eventually was hired as a NASA employee and have spent my time at JSC developing human-robot interaction software since. My major project consists of developing remote operations software for all of JSC’s human-assistive robots, and most of the time, operating those robots remotely over time delays. I also work on a multi-center team that develops and maintains common robot software so that we can all control and monitor each others’ robots. This has led to robotic collaborations with other space agencies, so traveling the world has become a big perk of my job. The other big perk is getting to work with Robonaut 2, the first (and only) humanoid robot in space. Looking back on my life, I am very happy that I followed my dreams. I never attempted to please someone else with the choices I made and I believe that has led me to not only be proud of my accomplishments, but also completely enjoy what I do each and every day. Things can get very hard, especially during those education years. In the end, though, the payoff of working hard, doing your best and following your dreams is completely worth it. Leaving it all on the floor and having no regrets = a fantastic life.

Tejal Fairfield

I grew up in a traditional Indian home where my parents did not have a formal education. I was the first female in our family to go to college. My parents are self-employed hotel entrepreneurs, and as a result, I grew up all over. But, I consider my hometown to be both Kansas City, Missouri and Early, TX. I attended and graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelors in Business Administration with concentrations in management and marketing, and minors in Economics and Retailing. I originally was planning on being a corporate attorney, but after an internship at a law firm in Singapore I decided the lifestyle of an attorney was not my cup of tea. I came back to my academic advisor and she suggested I try a co-op at NASA. I applied and got in!! I did two rotations within the Office of the Chief Financial officer, and they subsequently offered me a job. Yay! I of course accepted the offer and now work in the Engineering Resources Management Office, where I have a supported 5 divisions and over 200 hundred projects/efforts. In my role as the Program Analyst for the Software, Robotics, and Simulation division I was able to manage agency wide efforts like the Lunar Electric Rover and R2 (the most dexterous robot in the world). I learned a lot about the Federal Budget process and how important it is to be fiscally responsible. This led me to my current role as the Program Analyst for the Avionic Systems Division where I support labs that are key contributors to our mission’s success. Electromagnetic Interference Lab and the Anechoic Chamber (the room with the big spikes in it from Armageddon) are a few of the labs I support… pretty cool stuff. If I can leave you with one message to live by it’s this: You are your only obstacle. Period!

Carolina Restrepo

I grew up in Colombia and Bolivia, and the little I learned about NASA through a few TV shows made me want to be part of it. I never had the chance to meet or talk to anyone that worked in the space field, but I didn’t care. I set my mind to it and I knew I needed to make that happen. At 18, I came to the US alone and started studying aerospace engineering. I chose that as my major because I had read that I would get to design, build, and fly a radio-controlled airplane during my last year of school. A few weeks into my first semester at Texas A&M, I found out that NASA hired people my age, so that became my new goal. A year later I started working at the Johnson Space Center and have loved it ever since. As a student, I worked on several projects but my favorite ones were related to designing the algorithms that ensure a spacecraft flies the way we want it to. This work required me to have a solid background on math and physics so that I could simulate the flight of a spacecraft as close as possible to reality. I went to graduate school and learned much more about design and analysis techniques that I use every day as I work on the design of NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Working at NASA makes all those years of hard work and late nights of homework well worth it. I wouldn’t change this for anything.