Initially, when I started working for NASA, I can’t say that there was something that inspired me. I longed to return to my career field of procurement, and an opportunity became available at NASA. The inspiration came later, as I became more involved with the programs and projects I supported.
I began my career at NASA in 1998. While preparing to move to California, I applied for a contract specialist position at NASA Ames Research Center. Initially, there were conversations with Human Resources and Procurement management. However, many months went by without any contact. By this time, I assumed the job had been filled and applied for a job with the Department of Education in San Francisco. One day, I received a call from Ames’ Human Resources inquiring if I was still interested in a position with NASA. I was quite surprised to receive the telephone call, but very happy. They explained that shortly after our last conversation, a hiring freeze had been invoked. I expressed my continued interest, as I enjoyed procurement work and was eager to return to it. Within a month, I was hired as a contract specialist at Ames. I could not have been more thrilled. Shortly after, I resumed my role as a contracting officer in the Acquisition Division. I later served as the Acting Branch Chief for Business and Operations, and occasionally as the Acting Deputy Division Chief for Acquisition.
While working in the Acquisition Division, I administered and awarded a number of large, complex procurements for various programs and projects. I began to realize the various kinds of work NASA did involved much more than space exploration. Although the extent of NASA’s research and technology was overwhelming, it also was very exciting. The more contracts I awarded, the more my interests were piqued to gain a better understanding of the work I supported. I challenged myself to do the best job possible to help people with whom I worked be successful. In addition, I admired the vision and passion of the scientists and engineers who championed and managed the programs and projects. I later developed an appreciation for the benefits so many people have received through NASA work, such as those working in the medical field. It became apparent to me the important role the Acquisition Division played in ensuring that Ames reached its goals and NASA met its mission. In 2003, I was honored by the Assistant Administrator for Procurement as NASA’s Contract Specialist of the Year.
In 2007, I was selected as the special assistant position to the Center Operations Directorate. In 2008, I was promoted to assistant director, overseeing the center’s Management Controls Program for organization, policies and procedures. Currently, I serve as the Associate Director of Center Operations.
I’m most proud of helping others. I never hesitate to mentor others, share my knowledge, and promote training and development for my colleagues. Seeing other’s sincere hard work and dedication pay off for them, is rewarding to me. There has always been a calling “to serve” for me – to family, friends, community, work, and country. Some have said, “She’s almost dedicated to a fault.” I take great pride in working hard and helping others do their very best.
The saddest moment of my career occurred when a very special mentor passed away. I not only lost one of my best teachers, but a colleague and friend. It was a difficult time, but I learned to persevere. I would recall things that my mentor said or taught me to see me through tough days at work. I always relied on his wisdom to help me complete a procurement project. You really learn to take nothing for granted and count your blessings every day.
You can’t help reminiscing about all of the people who helped to shape your life and who played a major role encouraging you to become the person you are today. From that summer student position with the federal government, to where I am today, there have always been people in my life motivating me to stretch my abilities to achieve my dreams. This is the advice I would like to pass on to the next generation – don’t be afraid to stretch your abilities.
I truly enjoy working for NASA. I try to focus on the positives. Keeping the job fun helps to keep the negative energy at bay. Encouraging new employees to learn as much as they can about NASA and their centers, excel in their careers, take on new assignments, and do the best job possible, is always at the forefront for me. Believing in NASA makes it easy for me to be a motivator and champion for what the agency strives to accomplish in space exploration.
Rhonda Baker knew at an early age she wanted to work for the federal government. She just wasn’t sure in what capacity. She had a great deal of admiration and respect for such occupations since many members of her family served in the military and worked as civil servants. “I was always surrounded by people who ‘worked for the federal government’ and I could sense the gratitude in many of their voices when they talked about working for the federal government,” says Ms. Baker. It was in light of these conversations that Ms. Baker found the inspiration and encouragement to pursue her goals. Thanks to her aunt, Ms. Baker learned of the Office of Personnel Management, and she was fortunate to be hired as a summer student. Little did she know this would be the beginning of her federal career. Over the years, Ms. Baker has held many government jobs with several government agencies. Her work ethic has sustained her throughout the years. Some have said, “She’s almost dedicated to a fault.” Ms. Baker has used this dedication to work hard and to help others do their very best. Working for NASA certainly inspires her to motivate others on their journey. Ms Baker currently serves as the Associate Director for Center Operations at NASA Ames. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration.