Nikki Martin

My greatest inspirations growing up were my parents. Neither had a college degree but they encouraged my siblings and me to do well in school. From a very early age, I knew that I was going to college. There was no doubt that I would be continuing my education after high school. I loved math and the physical sciences, and excelled in those subjects. I never dreamed it would lead me to a career at NASA.

My career path was far from direct. I took a military aptitude test at my high school. Now that I look back I think the military was recruiting for the Vietnam War. Engineering was one of the areas in which they felt I would excel. After some discussion with my dad about what engineers did at Chrysler, where he worked at the time, I decided that sounded like a career path I might follow. When I started taking courses at the University of Michigan, however, things changed.

I was having serious difficulty with math, my favorite subject in high school. For the first time ever I was doing poorly in a math class. I was worried about my financial aid status if I did not pass classes. I spoke to scheduling counselors who were of little help. My grade point average suffered terribly. So, I changed my major to something that would be less-math intensive – accounting. I managed to improve my GPA every semester and graduated with a low B average. Not what I had originally hoped as I was fourteenth highest GPA in my high school graduating class.

I started working in the accounting field but was always unsettled. I took evening classes at Schoolcraft Community College and eventually received an associate degree in computer programming. I decided that although I enjoyed the challenge of software programming, it was not something that I wanted for a career. My accounting career continued. At one point I worked for a small research and development firm. I had discussed my education with an engineer at that firm, who had often lent me a hand with my programming studies.

He encouraged me to go back to my original career path and take engineering classes. I retook the calculus classes that had previously eluded me. In time I went from taking an occasional math or engineering class at the community college to part-time schedule at an Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accredited college. When I wasn’t at work, it seemed I was in school or studying. I graduated from Lawrence Technological University Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering at the young age of fifty.

Prior to graduation I received an email from the United States Air Force looking for civilian engineers. When I went online to USA Jobs, a position came up for Dryden Flight Research Center. I joked with my friends about applying at NASA and then applied. I never dreamed I would actually get an interview much less a job. I thoroughly enjoy working for NASA. I believe I make a difference every day. My path was long and never direct but it was worth the work and determination. If I had to pass on a lesson learned, it would be never give up. Don’t let others discourage you. If you want something, just keep trying. You can do it.

photo of Nikki Martin


Nikki Martin grew up in Garden City, Michigan, a small suburb west of Detroit. Following graduation from Garden City West High School, Martin earned her first bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, majoring in accounting. She then worked as an accountant for more than 20 years in various industries, beginning as an accounts payable clerk and eventually working her way up to office manager and controller. However, Martin was not satisfied with nor challenged enough with her career as an accountant. She took evening classes in computer programming, which she found was not for her either. Martin then joined a research firm, doing accounting and assisting an engineer with his nontechnical tasks. With the engineer’s encouragement and the challenge of the work, she returned to college when she was in her 40s to receive her second bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. After graduating, she accepted an electrical engineering position with NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards, California. She has worked at the center for seven years, and is currently working in instrumentation, installing sensors and data systems on both research and support aircraft. Martin assisted in developing and testing of the instrumentation power distribution system for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, which incorporates a large infrared telescope mounted inside a highly modified Boeing 747 airliner. She also has supported two phases of the Vehicle Integrated Propulsion Research (VIPR) project, which researches the effects of debris such as volcanic ash that enter an aircraft engine in flight. . She is currently assisting with preparation of the engine for the third phase of VIPR testing that will support a multitude of research partners including the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration. For the Orion crew module, Pad Abort 1 flight test, Martin managed the instrumentation drawings and assisted with the laser shooting and placement of the Orion crew module sensors. During the Mars Science Laboratory testing for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), she supported wiring changes on the F/A-18 jet airplane to support JPL’s radar pod installation and gyro testing. Martin also worked on the G-III subsonic aircraft test bed instrumentation providing a research platform for the Active Compliant Trailing Edge flight tests as well as future science projects.