Everyone starts from somewhere…
Career-wise, my mom was my first role model. She’s a nurse and I am squeamish, so I knew that a career in medicine was not for me. Though I received good grades in Math and Science, I’m not sure how or why I decided not to pursue a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) field. Despite being a Houston, Texas native, I also thought that only engineers and scientists could work for NASA.
In college, I chose Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing because it was a lucrative career field that encouraged creativity. Besides determining my major, I did not have any step of my journey mapped out. My first day of college, I didn’t have transportation, or my tuition fully paid, but everyone starts from somewhere! I self-financed my education by working three jobs each semester: substitute teaching, making copies as work-study at the Veteran’s Administration and customer service at the mall.
Pivotal Moments are game-changers…
It was not until my senior year in college that I learned about NASA support functions such as Procurement, Budget Analysis and External Relations during a Career Fair at my alma mater, the University of Houston. I joined NASA’s Co-operative Education (Co-op) Program at Johnson Space Center (JSC) the semester I was scheduled for graduation. It was not a popular decision with my family; they feared I would get distracted with work and not graduate. In retrospect, it was a pivotal moment for my career.
A Whole New World…
One of the first things I noticed at JSC was the variety of support functions related to business– a whole new world! My co-op experience also offered my first exposure to successful women in my career field. Seeing women of all backgrounds, in senior positions, and making significant contributions throughout NASA, was an inspiration to me. It was a tangible illustration of how women can excel in a technical industry – in support and technical positions. My early career experiences also introduced me to the challenges of encouraging youth, especially women, to pursue STEM careers.
An opportunity to support Women in STEM:
Though I do not have a technical degree, I’ve been able to support women in STEM fields at all stages of their careers through my work in various roles at JSC such as: Procurement, Human Resources, Education, and Equal Opportunity. I’ve also been able to support several projects which have directly influenced opportunities for students to pursue STEM fields.
For several years I managed JSC’s Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP). MUREP programs allow universities to conduct NASA research and to send their students to NASA for internships. Through student programs and partnerships with academia like MUREP, NASA contributes to making sure the United States has enough people pursuing STEM career fields to maintain national competitiveness in technology. Working with students has been one of my career highlights; they are NASA’s future workforce who will accomplish great feats.
I’ve just celebrated my 12th anniversary at JSC. I am still inspired by the cadre of talented, driven and committed individuals who consistently strive to pursue excellence. Some of the daily operating principles I strive to emulate such as: knowing my job well, being professional and making meaningful contributions, model individuals at NASA who balance work and family with exceptional grace and humility.
Also, being a part of something great continues to inspire me. I am currently an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Counselor and JSC’s Disability Program Manager. A large part of my day includes providing tools to help to resolve workplace conflicts so that employees are engaged and productive at work. As the Disability Program Manager, I lead JSC’s Disability Advisory Group which promotes a working environment that is inclusive of all abilities. I also support recruiting functions and placement of JSC’s interns.
Though I have often wondered how my decision would have been influenced differently if I had been introduced to STEM careers earlier, I wouldn’t change anything if I had the opportunity to start over. My journey has led me to where I’m supposed to be. Along the way, I also have found a new passion: educational outreach to introduce youth to STEM career fields. I share my story so that others can be encouraged to pursue the road less traveled. By taking risks, you might achieve success that is beyond your wildest dreams!
Despite being a Houston, Texas native, Janelle Holt thought that only engineers and scientists could work for NASA. She was introduced to NASA career possibilities for business students during a Career Fair at her alma mater, the University of Houston. She pushed her graduation date back a year and pursued an additional major in Management to participate in NASA’s Co-operative Education (Co-op) Program at Johnson Space Center (JSC). After that pivotal moment, she never looked back. Today she is an Equal Opportunity (EO) Specialist in JSC’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity. She helps ensure equal employment opportunity in the workplace and facilities providing workplace accommodations for medical and religious needs. Her work promotes environment that respects, values and maximizes the leverage of NASA’s workforce expertise. Throughout her career, she has served in several offices that support technical activities such as Procurement, Human Resources, and Education. Janelle takes pride in her support role. As she explains, “support roles ensure that everyone has the tools needed for mission success. For every Astronaut in space, there’s a team of people on the ground taking care of details so that Astronauts can focus on their tasks.” Janelle holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Management from University of Houston and a Master’s of Business Administration from the Tulane University. She is also a recipient of NASA Early Career Achievement Medal, 2012. Her story is a relatable testament that speaks to how you can advocate for women in STEM regardless of your career field. Women of all backgrounds are shaping today and tomorrow’s space program.