My dream of becoming a teacher transformed into wanting to be an engineer when I became a member of the Mu Alpha Theta Mathematics Honor Society and attended a program for rising high school seniors who excelled in math and science at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The program, REcruitment of High Ability Minority Students (REHAMS), showcased various engineering disciplines while encouraging participants to pursue engineering degrees. My high school math and science teachers encouraged me to attend REHAMS because I demonstrated outstanding ability and a keen interest in mathematics and science.
Thinking back to when I was a college student, I can recall people saying my twin brother and I should have swapped our majors. He was majoring in advertising, and I had chosen electrical engineering, a field which was male-dominated. However, I didn’t let the naysayers sway me and I earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Today, as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the NASA Stennis Space Center, in Hancock County, Mississippi, I provide leadership, planning, policy direction, and oversight for information technology (IT) resources at the center. This includes application hosting and data center services, application development and sustainment, Web development and maintenance, telecommunications, desktops, audio/visual, video, IT security, electronic forms, records management, and documentation control.
My career with NASA began 24 years ago when I became an Engineering Student Trainee in the Data Operations Division at Stennis. I was a network System Administrator, providing support for the creation and implementation of an information management system, and serving as a technical coordinator for an electronic information delivery system. I also did several cooperative job rotations with NASA while still working to complete my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
After obtaining my bachelor’s degree, I became a full-time NASA employee at Stennis as a Data Systems Computer Engineer where I served in many IT roles. One of my earlier assignments included serving as the first Email Postmaster for the center. In this position I was responsible for the design, implementation, management, operation and enhancement of the center’s email system. I also served as the Desktop Applications Manager responsible for the development and implementation of new desktop applications, and provided technical guidance and support to NASA and contractor employees.
I held this position until I became the Deputy CIO at Stennis which is the first time an African American female reached this level as a technical manager at the center. I was the IT Operations Manager responsible for the day-to-day oversight and management of the center’s “General Purpose” computing infrastructure to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of services to the agency and the center. I developed policies and guidelines for customer support services, developed mechanisms to measure IT policy effectiveness and compliance, and explored ways to enhance the level of services provided. I also was the center Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12) Implementation Manager, working to ensure the center satisfied NASA’s goals to meet deadlines established by Office of Management and Budget. I am pleased to say Stennis was able to complete 100% of all required employee background investigations and issued all required smartcards. I also managed the migration of the Stennis email system to an agency system. After three years as the Deputy CIO, I advanced to my current position as the Stennis CIO becoming the first African American female to achieve a technical management position at this center level.
I believe the key to increasing the number of women and minorities in IT careers begins by mentoring future generations. In support of this belief, I have mentored several high school and college students, new hires and aspiring future NASA leaders. I am an active member of the Stennis Speakers Bureau, where I regularly speak to students in elementary schools about pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
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.” Accordingly, she has mentored both women and minorities several times over the course of her career and is an active member of the NASA Stennis Space Center speakers’ bureau, through which she shares her experiences and offers sage advice to students in elementary school. Ms. Cottrell is the Chief Information Officer for the NASA Stennis Space Center, which means she provides to the center leadership, planning, policy direction, and oversight for delivery and management of NASA information and information technology resources. She also oversees information technology services and operations for the center’s computing infrastructure, which includes: application hosting and data center services, application development and sustainment, Web development and maintenance, telecommunications, desktops, audio/visual, video, information technology security, electronic forms, records management, and documentation control. Ms. Cottrell got her foot in the door at the center by undertaking several Co-op job rotations while completing her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A highly respected professional, Ms. Cottrell has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions through her 24-year career, including an award for Outstanding Information Technology Leadership.