Julie Ann RiveraPerez

If I had to choose a quote that describes me, it is the following: “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”- Gandhi

My name is Julie Ann Rivera Perez. I work for NASA, and this is my story.

As a young girl, I always said I wanted to be a singer. Music has always been my passion. My parents always supported me by being my biggest fans. I would go to school during the day and study music and singing in the Music Conservatory of Puerto Rico during the evenings. By the time I had to enter college, I decided I can still sing for fun, but I wanted to study Business Administration. I never imagined one day I would work for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

I vividly remember my interview for the NASA internship in the spring of 2008. It was not something I had planned for. As I sat in a rehearsal with the University of Puerto Rico Choir, a college friend called me to let me know NASA was recruiting for business students. Since I was doing my major in Business Administration, I didn’t think twice. I walked out of rehearsal, printed my resume, and got an interview. I received my acceptance package for the internship program during May of 2008. From that moment, my life completely changed.

It was January 5, 2009 when I started working for NASA as a co-op student. I was extremely excited for the amazing work I knew I was going to be doing. However, I was also very nervous because it was the first time I was truly away from home, my family, and my friends. Those first months were a big culture shock for me, as well as for those who worked with me. It was a time of learning and new experiences.

Soon after I completed my Bachelor’s degree in 2010, I was converted to a full-time permanent position in the area of Procurement. During this time, I met the love of my life, who is now my husband. It just happened that he also worked at NASA. Life was perfect for me, and I thought I had everything figured out. Little did I know how unpredictable life is.

I suddenly became chronically ill. For two years, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I heard things like, “It’s all in your head.” or “You are just a sensitive female.” I felt beyond frustrated. No doctor was truly interested in looking for what was making me so ill. All they saw was a girl who on the outside looked normal and healthy. I finally decided to visit Johns Hopkins Hospital. It only took one doctor to realize my symptoms were not common. After a series of tests, I was diagnosed with Chronic Neutropenia and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. For a while, I didn’t know exactly what to make of it. Doctors kept telling me Ehlers-Danlos could be bad if it kept progressing, but nothing life threating; however, the neutropenia could kill me, but I shouldn’t worry because probably nothing would happen to me. However, I had to do Neupogen injections to help my bone marrow in the production of white blood cells to help increase my chances of being healthy. The injection itself is a horrible experience. You feel as if every bone in your body is breaking and on fire. Fortunately, the effects of the injection only last up to 48 hours. I lived thinking I was still young and invincible, and no harm would come to me.

Even with the intense pain from the injections, I tried to live my life as if nothing was wrong with me. I decided to join the NASA Music and Drama Club (MAD). I played lead roles in two different musicals, the latest being “The King & I,” in which I played the part of Tuptim. The great thing about working for NASA is that you grow, not only as a professional but also as an individual. I would have never guessed NASA had a variety of clubs to fit the employees’ interests. I didn’t just work in Procurement; instead I was also given the chance to sing, dance, and act. It was the best of both worlds.

During one of my performances in “The King & I,” I began to feel strange. I couldn’t explain what I felt. I tried to shake it off; after all, the show must go on. When I got home, I was in a lot of pain, but I still thought I would be okay, and, come the next day, everything would go back to “normal”. However, I woke up feeling worse. My husband immediately took me to the hospital. Later that day, I found out I was about to go into a “neutropenic septic shock” due to an acute colitis I didn’t know I had. Because of the neutropenia, I never presented any symptoms of a bacterial infection until it was almost too late. I spent two weeks in the hospital in isolation.

I realized then that I am young, but I am not invincible. At 25 years of age, it never occurred to me I would be facing a life and death situation. I learned that doctors can’t predict the future, and ignoring my illness would not make it go away. Sometimes healing yourself doesn’t mean curing the illness but learning to live with it. Through it all, I learned that even though my family was miles away in Puerto Rico, I had a strong and loving husband by my side encouraging me to not give up. I also had a NASA family looking out for me every step of the way. I wasn’t alone, and in my illness, I was blessed.

Since then, I have been very determined and persistent in living life to the fullest. I try to concentrate on the things I can do instead of the things I can’t. I am working at NASA and loving every minute of what I do. I am still singing and playing the piano. I am also riding my bike and taking a couple of classes such as painting, violin lessons, pottery, fused glass lessons, and photography. My dad has always told me, “The sky is the limit.”

Apart from my husband and his strength, my parents and my siblings have been a big influence throughout my life. From them, I learned that even when things seem difficult, if you have the will, anything is possible. Whoever reads my story, please remember this: Never underestimate what you can do, because when you truly believe in yourself, you never ever give up.

What will my future hold? I can’t say for certain, but I can only hope for love, health, future children, singing, arts, learning, and more of the awesome things I get to do at NASA. I do know one thing for sure. Whatever the future brings me, I will make the best of it.

Biography

While growing up in Puerto Rico, Julie Ann Rivera Perez never imagined she would work for NASA. Most people might say they could only hope or dream to work for NASA, but Ms. Rivera never even imagined it would be her who would eventually get a job in what is now the #1 Place to Work in the Federal Government. When she wasn’t studying for her classes, she was singing in the University of Puerto Rico Choir, leading and organizing activities for the National Society of Collegiate Students (NSCS), and spending time with her family. After completing her cooperative education tours at Goddard Spaceflight Center, Ms. Rivera completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a Major in Human Resources and a Minor in Marketing in 2010. She was hired full time to work for the Industry Assistance Office as a Procurement Analyst. During this time, she counseled small businesses on how to do business with NASA, evaluated small business competition on Center procurements, and evaluated subcontracting plans to ensure that large businesses were meeting their proposed small business goals. After a year and a half, Ms. Rivera transitioned to the position of Contract Specialist for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite- R Series (GOES-R) Project. As a Contract Specialist, she is responsible for administering GOES-R contracts. This includes evaluating proposals, holding negotiations, making modifications to contracts, and evaluating contractor’s performance. In addition to working on a flight project, Ms. Rivera also serves as Co-Chair of the Hispanic Advisory Committee for Employees (HACE) providing advice, guidance, and recommendations to Center Management and the Equal Opportunity Program Office in the recruitment, retention, and professional development of the Hispanic community. After work hours, she meets with Goddard’s Music and Drama Club to rehearse for Fall Musicals or Spring Shows! Singing has always been a passion for her.