“I’m a 35-year-old mother of three in my third marriage, working as a waitress, and have let life around me “just happen”. I exist in a reactionary state of mind.” That was me 11 years ago when I decided it was time to take control of my life, become proactive and make choices to live my life.
After finishing high school, going to college was something I never wanted to do. I graduated high school as an average student and did what was necessary to finish and nothing more. Today, I have completed three two-year degrees, all with honors and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a GPA of 4.0 with my Bachelors of Science in occupational safety and gealth. Who knew I had it in me? Not me. I went from being an average student letting life happen to becoming a college graduate who now makes life happen.
So how did I get to NASA? How was I offered a job as a quality assurance specialist for the International Space Station? How am I so blessed to be able to have fun eight hours a day, five days a week, and get paid doing it? It is not something that “just happened” and it is not something I could have ever done by myself. I worked very hard, studied even harder, and ignored everyone that said it couldn’t be done.
When I decided to take control of my life and go to college, it was not an easy decision. I took on being a full-time student while working full time and raising three boys with the complete support of my wonderful husband. I started out with small goals — after all, at this point in my life, I had never even made any goals. While going to BCC for a two-year degree in the secretarial field, I found a flier that talked about NASA looking for co-ops. I thought, “What the heck. I’ll give it a try.” To my amazement, I was hired, one of the last two secretarial co-ops. Whew, timing was on my side! I actually made a choice and things were happening. I think all of Brevard County heard my scream when I got that call and was offered a job. I can honestly say that I was not one of those kids growing up dreaming about a job with NASA. But here I was, going to work for NASA.
I was so fortunate to be assigned to the Safety and Mission Assurance branch for ISS. I finished my degree, with honors, and was offered a full-time position. Now I think all of Florida heard me scream! I worked very hard at my job, while loving every minute of it. I truly could never have imagined how exciting and fun my job would be. I was actually enjoying going to work. I was starting to feel that there had to be more. For the first time in my life, I actually felt the need to learn more. I loved what our branch did, and I wanted to become a part of that team. Every opportunity I had, I took technical classes that NASA offered and then decided it was time to go back to school. This time I graduated with my two-year degree in aerospace technology. I pursued the opportunity to become a quality assurance specialist, only to hit brick walls along the way. I was told secretaries cannot move over to the technical field, it just does not happen. But I was determined and not giving up. After all, I was now making the choices to live my life. I continued to push through the barriers and found the right people who believed in me and saw what I could do and what I was capable of, and here I am 11 years later, having fun at NASA as a journeyman-level quality assurance specialist.
Since I had found a new passion for learning, I figured I might as well finish up my AA, and then finished my four-year degree with a 4.0. Yes, me, the average high-school student, now cared about learning what I was studying.
I truly have the greatest job in the world and work with some of the most fascinating people. My job is so diversified and it allows me to experience so many new things. I have worked with some of the greatest payload developers, helping them get their science experiments ready to fly on the shuttle; and I have had the greatest time working with a wonderful team loading the experiments into the shuttle middeck, and then working with the landing team taking them off and processing them back to the developers. I have worked on elements of the space station, worked inside of them before they flew into space and were attached to our International Space Station. We NASA employees have jobs that so many people only dream about.
If I, a waitress and mother of three, can sit here 11 years later and be in awe of what I do every day, anything is possible. Faith, family support and belief in yourself make things happen.
My greatest accomplishment in life was something I received just this past week. My mother for the first-time ever told me how proud of me she was in how hard I have worked and how far I have come in life. My mother has recently been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and I know our time together is running short. To hear those words, “I’m so proud of how hard you work and how far you’ve come” means more to me than anyone could ever understand.
So what does my future hold? What do I see myself doing 10 years from now? Doing exactly what I am doing now, loving going to work and working with the greatest team in the world. NASA has been very good to me and my family. We have been able to do things I once only dreamed of. If you had told me 11 years ago that I would be nominated as the woman of NASA, I would have thought you were crazy.
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. Ms. Dundas never entertained the idea of working at NASA, but she thought it sounded like a great opportunity. After her interview, she was called that afternoon from personnel offering her a job. Still feeling like something was missing, Ms. Dundas went back to school for a degree in aerospace technology. After working through many barriers at work and getting the right people to believe in her, she was given a developmental position as a quality assurance specialist (QAS). In her 11 years of working for NASA, she is now a journeyman-level QAS. Going from being a secretary to QAS was a challenge. She had to constantly prove herself as both a woman, in a predominately male job, and as a qualified QAS coming from a secretarial position. It was not easy, but she has earned respect from her co-workers, contractors, payload developers that she supports every day. Her most recent accomplishment was being selected to work on a team at Ames Research Center (ARC) on the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer project. Ten years ago she never would have thought she was capable of handling this much responsibility, but she has embraced it and loved every minute of it. Working for NASA is truly the best job in the world and has enriched her life in ways she never would have dreamed.