Nancy Holloway

I was born in 1965, in Hampton, Virginia. One of my earliest memories of NASA was in 1969 when my mom anxiously called my brother, sister, and me inside the house to look at the television. Once inside, I remember seeing a grainy black and white picture of an astronaut walking on the moon, and everything on the TV appeared to be in slow motion. My mom was super excited and told us this was a very important event, and she wanted us remember watching this on TV. I clearly recall my mother looking at me and explaining that people would still be talking about this amazing achievement, even when I was an old woman. At the time, I assumed adults could do almost anything, and wondered why she made such a big deal about it. Honestly, it was not until I became an adult and finally realized what a monumental achievement sending a man to moon really was. It is fascinating to look at the moon and acknowledge that humans actually walked on that surface.

As a child, I was very active and liked to be outside riding my bicycle, swimming, roller-skating, and doing gymnastics. I also loved art and making things. I remember one time staying with my grandmother and not having any toys to play with so I made my own. Using paper, tissues, a stapler, and crayons I fabricated a family of two dimensional stuffed paper dolls. My grandmother’s desk became their house. Reflecting back, it was more rewarding making the dolls than actually playing with them.
In the seventh grade, my school required that all students who signed up for a home economics class to also take a semester of wood shop and vice versa. When I sat on the stool that first day in shop class, I felt a little out of place because only boys took this type of class. However, it did not take long before I felt a sense of joy and accomplishment when I made my first wooden picture frame, followed by a neat desk display with a large wooden “N” on it for “Nancy”. Little did I know that this class would serve as a valuable precursor for things to come.

In high school, my favorite subjects were government and history. Honestly, I was not one who excelled in math. I asked my mom what type of career field I should consider getting into. She suggested the clerical field and thought it would be great to have a nice office job. With that, I signed up for typing and short hand courses. As a senior in high school, I participated in a co-operative (co-op) education program, and was fortunately placed in a part-time clerical job at NASA’s Langley Research Center. I remember telling my mom about the NASA job and she was so excited for me. She told me that “geniuses” work at NASA, and I was very lucky to have the opportunity to work at such an amazing place. My mom was right, NASA was and still is an amazing place to work! My first mentor, Charlotte Tyler, treated me just like family and taught me so much. Everyone was extremely nice, professional, dedicated, and intelligent.

I continued in the clerical field after graduating from high school, entering Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC), participating, and completing the NASA secretarial co-op program. Once I finished my associate’s degree in 1985, I landed a full-time secretarial position in the Composite Model Shop. At this time in my life, I felt very satisfied to have graduated from college, had a full-time job, and was ready to settle into my career.

While in the Model Shop, I would sometimes walk around and marvel at the fabrication of stealthy-looking, futuristic wind tunnel models, drop models, radio control models, and even the construction of composite fan blades for wind tunnels. I greatly admired the artisanship, skill, and pride of the technicians building the models, and enjoyed talking to them about their work. I also took note that there was a young woman, Donna Canon, a lone female among the males working side-by-side them. Seeing Donna successfully working in a male dominated field was an epiphany for me, and I wanted to do amazing technical work just like her. With that, I pushed and pursued every avenue and opportunity to switch careers and enter the technical field. Fortunately, for me, at the time (1985/86) NASA was looking to place females into non-traditional career fields. There were a couple of developmental programs open as a part of this effort. I applied for and was accepted into an electronics trainee position as part of the Growth Opportunity (GO) program. GO was structured similar to a co-op program. I re-enrolled at TNCC, this time taking technical courses and mentoring under the guise of senior level electronics technicians. This experience was the hardest, most challenging, and definitely the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. I was not much of a math student in high school; however, I applied myself 110% and learned that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.

After completing the GO program, I entered the NASA Apprentice School, and continued working and taking technical courses. In both programs, I made excellent grades, graduated with honors, and ironically sometimes even tutored my fellow apprentice classmates. Career switching made all the difference in my life, and it is one of the reasons I am passionate about outreach and communicating to students the rewarding opportunities available in technical career fields.

After graduating from the Apprentice school, I became specialized in Microelectronics and the development of electronic materials. I have had an amazing career performing research, and occasionally writing and presenting papers at conferences. Further, I am a co-inventor on six US patents, an R&D 100 Award winner, and the recipient of two NASA honor medals, along with the Holloway and Whitcomb awards.
During the the past five years, my career has taken a new direction as I switched gears again and became a manager — First, as a Section Head, and now as a Branch Head of the Fabrication Technology Development Branch.

From my early memories to now, I have had many mentors through the years that I am thankful for. Lastly, as Robert Frost so eloquently put it, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference”.

photo of Nancy Holloway


Nancy Holloway was recently promoted from section head of the Advanced Fabrication Processes Section (AFPS) to the branch head of the Fabrication Technology Development Branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Ms. Holloway established and leads the NASA Additive Manufacturing Working Group, a consortium of approximately 30 engineers and technicians comprised of members from other NASA Centers. She established the innovation fabrication “iFab” and personal fabrication “pFab” labs to develop innovative concepts, and turn ideas into tangible hardware. Nancy currently holds six U.S. Patents related to sensors and advanced materials technologies. Her background includes electronics and the development of electronic materials for flexible circuits, sensors, and superconductors. Ms. Holloway began her NASA career in 1982 as a senior in high school, participating in an administrative co-op program. After high school, she entered Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) as a NASA co-op and earned an AAS degree in 1985 in Office Technology. Upon completion of her degree, she was assigned a position in the Composite Models Branch where she was introduced to fabrication and technology. This introduction inspired her to change career paths and enter the technical field. In 1986, Ms. Holloway was accepted into the Growth Opportunity (GO) program as an electronics technician. The GO program offered career pathways for females to enter non-traditional fields. While in the program, she earned an AAS in Electronics Technology from TNCC and graduated with honors. From there, she entered the NASA Apprentice School, graduated with honors, and continued taking courses at TNCC and Christopher Newport University. As a life-long learner, she has completed over 200 college credits. Nancy is a member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. Throughout her NASA career, she has worked closely with a myriad of outreach and STEM programs, introducing technical careers and technology to thousands of students. Ms. Holloway is married to Daniel, and they have two daughters, Hannah and Isabella.