The Women@NASA Spotlight is on…
Jeanne Lynch, Chief of the Flight Dynamics Division, Johnson Space Center
Mission Control and astronaut training are two of the most high profile endeavors for NASA, and this month’s spotlight is on a woman who has directly led multiple divisions tasked with such responsibilities. From the electrical power system to the onboard computer network to flight dynamics, Jeanne Lynch leads the teams who are the technical experts for our human-based space program.
We hope you enjoy the interview below with Jeanne, that you learn something you did not know, and that you take away a nugget of inspiration from this remarkable role model. To learn more about the Spotlight recognition, visit here.
1. What inspired you to work at NASA?
When I was 10 years old, my family and I went to the 10th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the mall in Washington DC. I heard Neil Armstrong speak about his experience of being the first man to walk on the moon. It was an incredible, inspiring experience and from then on I knew I wanted to work for NASA.
2. Do you remember what it was like on your first day of work at NASA?
I started at Kennedy Space Center right out of college. I remember being nervous, but it was easy to fit in because everyone was so friendly. I was also assigned a mentor, who ended up also becoming a good friend. When I got there, personal computers had been around for a few years, but they told me that they didn’t have one for me. However, there were parts in the lab and I could build myself one. Wow, that was intimidating. I had no experience putting a computer together, even though my degree was in electrical engineering. It ended up turning out to a great experience; during that first week I built my first computer. I had fun, learned a lot, and got to know my co-workers because I asked so many questions!
3. What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?
Work-life balance is an important factor for everyone, especially working mothers.
Be yourself and be confident, but also be aware of yourself, your personality traits, your leadership style, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
If you convey your expectations of performance, people will typically live up to them.
4. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
My first leadership position was personally and professionally rewarding. I became the lead of a group of flight controllers just as the assembly of the International Space Station was picking up steam. I had to bridge the gap of not only learning the management side but also learning a new technical system. During the two and a half years I was there, I helped to mature the group’s training, flight controller skills, and planning processes. What I’m most proud of is that the group’s reputation grew from being one of the weakest to one of the strongest in the organization.
5. What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?
Making the decision to move to Houston was one of the most difficult decisions of my career and my life. Leaving my friends, family, and co-workers was daunting. However, the venture into the world of mission operations was compelling so my husband and I decided to make the move. I came to Johnson Space Center without any knowledge of Mission Control or the International Space Station power system, the group to which I was assigned. However, within a year I was selected to be a member of the team to get certified for the first International Space Station mission. Since then, I’ve had a number of positions within the Mission Operations Directorate; all were different, and all were rewarding. I think that to grow professionally, you have to be willing to change to get the opportunity for new experiences. Making a big change, even if it seems hard, can have rewards that you never expected. I also learned that there is no substitute for having a supportive family to help you during times of change; I couldn’t have done it without my husband.
6. Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?
I was blessed to grow up with an amazing family. Both of my parents were huge influences on me. My mother was always there for me, and she taught me to be confident in myself. She also showed me the importance of being well rounded; she read classic literature to my sister and me. She supported me in not only academics but also girl scouts, band, sports, and a multitude of clubs in high school. My interest in math and science came from my father. He had degrees in mathematics and systems engineering. He instilled in me the importance of setting high expectations of myself and striving for excellence. My aunt was also a big influence on my life. She was my female role model in the world of engineering before it was common or even accepted for women to enter the field. Because of her, there was never a question that I could make it in engineering, too.
I’ve also had a mentor here in the Mission Operations Directorate, Karen Jackson, who has been a big influence professionally. She gave me my first opportunity to work here at JSC. She took a chance on me back then, and it changed the course of my career. Since then, she has continued to be a mentor and friend. She is always willing to counsel me and talk through things with me. I know that I wouldn’t be in the position I am today if it weren’t for the technical, managerial, and career advice she’s given me through the years.
7. How has your career been different than what you’d imagined?
When I first dreamed of working at NASA that day in Washington DC, I wanted to be an astronaut. What I’ve found after 21 years of working at NASA is that what really inspires me is NASA’s mission and feeling that my work connects to it. I had never thought about working in management, but as I moved in that direction, I found that leading an organization to accomplish its goals and helping my employees to grow and succeed makes me feel just as connected to NASA and its mission as I did working in Mission Control.
8. Did you have to overcome any gender barriers in your career?
I don’t feel like I’ve had to overcome gender barriers as my career has developed. NASA has a great culture of diversity, and I feel like I’ve always been judged based on my performance, not what I look like, how long I’ve been here, or who I know. However, I do think that sometimes there is an unconscious, different expectation of behavior for women. A strong, direct man is seen as a powerful leader. A strong, direct woman can be seen a little differently. Although that is not the case very often, it is something to be aware of.
9. What does your future hold?
I really enjoy working in the Mission Operations Directorate at the Johnson Space Center. The “can-do” culture of high performance and professional excellence has been instrumental in developing me into the leader I am today. However, I do see myself at some point in my NASA career working at HQ and maybe even going full circle and ending up back at KSC. However, at this point, I just want to contribute in my current position as the Chief of the Flight Dynamics Division.
10. What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation?
Although we are each responsible for our own career development, I believe that you should focus on performing to your highest ability in the job you have today. Be proactive, take personal responsibility for your work, and strive for excellence. If you do that, not only in your technical work but also your interpersonal relationships, it will be noticed and you will be prepared for future opportunities to grow and advance your career.
11. Do you have any other comments or wisdom for your story?
One of my favorite leadership sayings is from General Howell, aka “Beak”, former center director of the Johnson Space Center. “Things are never as good or as bad as first reported.” Many times, human emotions end up magnifying situations, especially if something goes wrong. A good leader needs to be able to sort through that emotion, get to the root of the issue, and then allow the team to solve it.