I wish that I could say that I knew early on in life that I wanted to become a scientist or engineer. That would not be the true. My career goals changed a lot when I was growing up. During high school, I thought I wanted to become a Supreme Court judge. Then one day my father suggested that I pursue a career in engineering; and, because my father was the most intelligent person in the world, I did just what he suggested.
Dad knew that I was good in math and enjoyed trying to figure out how things work. So, in my senior year of high school, I adjusted my career plans and pursued engineering. Well, to make a long story short, I am an engineer, and I really enjoy what I do. I guess the moral of the story is not to sweat the career thing. Take your time to decide what you want to do, determine what things you are good at, and use that as a tool to decide your career goals.
I attended Hampton University for undergraduate and graduate school. A NASA scholarship funded my graduate school education and the research that I did in graduate school was directly related to the research that was being performed at the High Energy Science branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Performing research that was useful for NASA was really kind of heady, and I was very thankful for the opportunity. I had heard of NASA, of course, and I felt really lucky to be working indirectly for such a prestigious organization.
One of the greatest benefits of having a career at NASA is being able to take advantage of its many opportunities. Some of them include professional development and a chance to work with the best and brightest people in the world. I’ve been able to work with many people with diverse technical disciplines. I have had the opportunity to work with experts at Langley Research Center and across the Agency.
Identifying technologies that enable human spaceflight is exciting. Building solid-state lasers used to perform active remote sensing of the Earth’s atmosphere was also exciting. Both of these activities are memorable, and I consider myself lucky to be able to perform at the highest level and contribute to the success of NASA. All things are possible with hard work and dedication.
When I think about all the people who have helped me along the way, teachers from elementary school to graduate school, professionals, and family and friends, it makes me want to do the same for others. NASA has given me the freedom to do community outreach through NASA’s Speaker’s Bureau and to mentor young scientists and engineers in the many intern programs at Langley. It also allows me to advocate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
I recently received an award from the Women of Color organization at their annual conference. The Women of Color also honors what it calls “Rising Stars”. They are young engineers and scientists who excel technically within their careers and make major contributions to their companies. I couldn’t believe it when one of those “Rising Stars” was one of the students I mentored during a summer internship. Wow! I was so excited for her and so enthused that she had the opportunity to work at NASA for a summer and used the opportunity to be one of the best and brightest in her technical discipline.
The perception of “a scientist” is that they work in laboratories by themselves and do not interact with people. They are thought of as “nerds” and people believe they don’t do cool things. Well, I’m here to tell you that is not true. In my job, I travel to all parts of the country to attend technical conferences and interact with other scientists and engineers at other NASA centers, industry, and academia. I participate in career days at local middle and high schools. I advocate the work I do and promote its benefits for the betterment of the country. And I believe scientists and engineers are really well rounded and cool people.
While the science and engineering careers are still male dominated, more and more women have entered the workforce. I always encourage young women to pursue a career in science, engineering and technology because they are truly fascinating. During my term as a Langley Federal Women’s Program committee member, I enjoyed working with other women to identify and address our needs within the working environment. Issues like flexible work hours, childcare facilities, and healthcare are just some topics that have been addressed. And although these issues may be women orientated, men benefit also because they are an integral part of balancing family with career.
I often encourage young women not to put any limitations on their career choices. In this day and age, all career fields are wide open. I encourage young women to pursue a career in science or engineering because it is one way you can impact society and have fun along the way.
Philosophy: “All things are possible!”
Mrs. Williams-Byrd has Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees in physics from Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. Mrs. Williams-Byrd is married and has two sons. She enjoys spending time with her family and her favorite hobby is reading mystery novels.
Taking advantage of opportunities and challenges has been the mantra for Julie Williams-Byrd’s career at NASA. These opportunities have allowed Ms. Williams-Byrd the ability to excel and to experience the career of a lifetime by working on exciting projects and working with exceptionally talented people from a variety of disciplines. These opportunities have also allowed Ms. Williams-Byrd to perform community outreach by advocating to young people careers in science, engineering, math, and technology (STEM). Mrs. Williams-Byrd has worked at NASA Langley Research Center since obtaining a Master’s in Physics from Hampton University (Hampton, Va.). She is currently an electro-optics engineer for the Space Mission Analysis Branch and leads a technology and integration team that identifies and communicates technologies that could enable human spaceflight exploration to a variety of space destinations. She has identified, performed analysis, assessed, prioritized and communicated current and future technologies that would enable human spaceflight exploration to decision-makers at NASA Headquarters. Mrs. Williams-Byrd began her career at NASA Langley Research Center designing and developing solid-state laser systems used for remote sensing of the Earth’s atmosphere. Mrs. Williams-Byrd is committed to encouraging young scientist and engineers by mentoring summer interns. She also advocates STEM careers by making presentations, providing hands on activities at local schools, and judging local science fair competitions through NASA’s Speaker’s Bureau. Mrs. Williams-Byrd is a graduate of Hampton University. Mrs. Williams-Byrd is married and has two sons.