Mary Lobo

I have always admired people who know early on what they want to do in life. I don’t consider myself one of those persons. I have been blessed to have experiences and people in my life that guided me towards a career in STEM and ultimately to NASA.

At a young age I was identified as gifted and talented and placed in the SCOPE (Selected Curriculum for Optimal Performance and Enrichment) Program. There, in a poor African American community, it was instilled in us that coming from a disadvantaged area meant that we may have to work harder, and shine brighter to get the same opportunities in life as others, but that we were well-equipped to do so. For me, working at a high level became the expectation and that drive helped me excel in school.

At home, like my mother, I had a passion and talent for visual arts- sewing, painting and creating. I dreamed of being a cartoonist or a photographer. Even though it was my mother who taught me to sew, she was the one who set me in a direction towards STEM. She recognized my aptitude in math and science, so when I expressed my career aspirations to be an artist she replied in no uncertain terms “No, you’ll be an engineer” and she planted the seed.

After graduating as Valedictorian of my high school class, I attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. There I switched my focus from physics to architecture, and eventually to mechanical engineering like mom predicted. I chose mechanical engineering because I was still really strong in math and science, and it was the one engineering field that included in its curriculum a sampling of other engineering fields including civil, chemical and electrical. I wanted to get exposure to as many subjects as possible, because I had not found one that truly interested me. But even in my last year of school I was unsure of my path forward. I approached my advisor and told him I was considering changing my degree. He responded that I would not change my degree at that point, but instead I would graduate with a BS in mechanical engineering and “figure out” what I wanted to do afterwards. I remember being very afraid that I had not identified my ideal career like most of my peers, but he assured me that the mechanical engineering degree would open many doors and I could decide based on my future experiences.

After graduating cum laude in 1999, I began working in private industry as an applications engineer. But when an opportunity came, I joined NASA Glenn Research Center as a contractor in facility test engineering. For five years I worked in Turbomachinery and Flow Physics facilities, leading buildup and testing activities. My mechanical engineering degree had opened the door to new opportunities just as my advisor predicted and I began to realize that I enjoyed working in STEM just as much as I enjoyed the arts.

When funding shifted in 2005 I was laid off and I returned to private industry working as a supervisor and then as an international contract administrator in a manufacturing setting. All the while I wanted to return to the NASA culture of learning and creating. Moreover, I realized that NASA was a place where my contribution meant more than just making money for a company because I played a part in a greater mission. I had found something that I wanted to do. So when the opportunity came in 2008, I returned to facility test engineering again as a NASA contractor.

I became a civil servant in 2010 and in 2013 I was hired as the Space Simulation Facility Manager where I am able to utilize the skills that I gained from all my previous work experience. For over two dozen vacuum test facilities, I coordinate test entries with internal and external customers, and I am responsible for the strategic planning of our vacuum facility portfolio, ensuring the facilities are maintained and/or upgraded to support NASA’s future missions. As I learn more about our space exploration programs and technology, I get excited about the work we are doing and how my contribution matters.

Now when I participate in outreach activities I encourage students to learn as much as they can, about as much as they can. Like the case for me, sometimes it’s the variety in experience, exposure to different subjects, and NOT knowing what you want to do that will lead you to where you want to be!

photo of Mary Lobo


Growing up as both a left-brained and right-brained child led Mary Lobo to excel in both academics and the arts, but it was her mother who influenced her to keep her artistic endeavors as hobbies and pursue a career as an engineer. After graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve University, Ms. Lobo worked for years at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio as a test engineer leading multidiscipline teams to perform buildup and testing activities in Turbomachinery and Flow Physics facilities. Throughout her career as both a contractor and civil servant at NASA, Ms. Lobo has been recognized for her participation in education and outreach activities, exceptional facility support, and has received multiple NASA Group Achievement Awards. Today, Ms. Lobo serves as the Space Simulation Facility Manager at Glenn’s Lewis Field campus. She is responsible for coordinating internal and external customer tests in over two dozen vacuum chambers and the strategic planning to enable the chambers to be ready to support NASA future missions. She continues to mentor students and young engineers and encourages students to explore, create and be adventurous.