Jennifer’s parents tell her that there were signs she was going to be an engineer from when she was little. She was the one that would sit at the family desk and take apart all the pens and mechanical pencils in the drawers. Her family went camping every summer and using a construction toy set, with pieces sort of like PVC pipes, elbows, and connectors, Jennifer would make things like a clothes closet or an enclosure for the outdoor shower they used after going swimming.
Growing up in a small town in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the daughter of an educator and a social worker, Mary Beth never imagined her path would lead her to where she is today. Her parents provided a wide range of opportunities to help her find her passion. But most importantly, they drove home the idea that one has to enjoy what she is doing to do it well.
Despite growing up in Newport News, Virginia, the neighboring city of NASA Langley Research Center, and developing a love for space and academics, Donna never dreamt that she would one day work at NASA.
New employees at NASA’s Langley Research Center often ask Kathy whether she had a plan for her career. Her answer is a confident ‘no’. But the career Kathy ended up with is one she is privileged to have.
Aerodynamics has always fascinated Karen, although she didn’t know the term for it when she was younger. Throughout her life, Karen pursued this passion for aerodynamics. Her passion and the support she has received from teachers and mentors brought her to where she is today.
Service has always been Janet’s goal and motivation. It is a sense of purpose passed down to her from her mother. She instilled in Janet a strong work ethic. She didn’t have a lot. They weren’t rich. But she taught her how to give and not expect things in return. That has stayed with Janet.
Kate was never certain what she wanted to be when she grew up. She enjoyed science, had a desire to serve in the military, and wanted to go to college. She struggled with how to put her interests together. During her junior year, she found some direction. She took a multiple-aptitude test that measured developed abilities and helped predict future academic and occupational success in the military.
C.J. grew up in the shadow of Edwards Air Force Base in California, where looking up from the playground to watch an experimental aircraft streak across the sky was not uncommon. While she was fascinated by the space program and the pioneering aeronautics work happening next door, the idea of making a career in aerospace was never in the forefront of her mind.
During Ying’s recent visit to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, she took a selfie with Ms. Curiosity–a full size model of Curiosity Mars Rover. She believes they share the same characteristic—always curious about what is going on in space, what is happening on other planets, and whether there is another Earth.
Shortly after birth, Courtney was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer caused by a genetic defect. She became a patient at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where she underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Despite the numerous out-of-state trips for treatments by exceptional doctors and nurses, and the removal of the cancer itself, she eventually lost her eyesight completely around the age of five. But Courtney retained a vivid memory of shapes and colors. Despite her vision loss, she could turn the corner of any room into a spaceship or an alien planet.
Raymonda was born in Kiev, Ukraine and her family moved to Brooklyn, New York when she was 6 with only $1,500 to begin their life anew. Raymonda is a fifth generation member of a deaf family and started school in the United States at the age of 8, knowing no English.
When Seunghee Lee’s parents told her about the decision to immigrate to America, she was not happy. She was 17 years old and didn’t want to leave all her friends in South Korea and was afraid of moving to a foreign country that spoke a different language. Although English is taught in South Korean schools, it was limited to reading and writing simple sentences with no speaking lessons.
Cynthia never had aspirations to be an engineer or become a manager. She simply took steps that were shaped by caring people and took a life-altering detour. As a result, her career unfolded before her.
Growing up in the inner city of the Bronx, New York, Rosalind had no idea she would work for NASA. Her mother, sister and she lived in a small apartment with her aunt and uncle. But, as a young girl, she always knew she wanted to be a lawyer.
The stories of Vietnamese Boat People had begun soon after April 1975. This story was also a part of Caroline’s life.
It seemed to Laura Iraci that kids always asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as if there were one single right answer. It seemed as if “grown up” was a static condition, never changing. Laura did not have a single childhood passion that shaped her view of who she would be when she reached the destination called “grown up”.
Nancy Searby was raised by a dad in the Air Force and a mom who stayed home to take care of her four daughters. One of her worst school memories, and yet one that was so formative, was when she attended elementary school in Bossier City, Louisiana in the 1960’s. Nancy attended school on the first day of desegregation, black and white students coming together.
NASA has been part of Becky Murray’s life since she was born-literally! Becky NASA story began at her childhood home as the daughter of an Apollo-era engineer. At a young age, she knew she wanted to be part of the extraordinary NASA family.
Mary grew up as the middle child surrounded by three sisters. Communication and prioritization was key to keep a peaceful home. From an early age, Mary set her goals high and set out to work for NASA as an Astronaut. Many children would change their minds but Mary never did.
Sarah spent four years falling in love with the natural world. As a geology major, she spent the bulk of her college career exploring national parks, volcanoes, and canyons all over the western United States. But when it came time to graduate, she faced a tough realization. She did not want to pursue a career in science. She did not have the burning desire to get a Ph.D. or be a professor. She just wanted to be outside.
Sylvia was born in Sydney, Australia to a family that had a great interest in science. Although she has four brothers, Sylvia was the one most interested in pursuing a scientific career. However, that was easier said than done in those times in a country where women were not that common in science and especially in physical sciences and engineering.
When Katharine was young, she wanted to be a doctor or some kind of scientist. Katharine feels that she was lucky growing up-no one was trying to tell her that girls could not do anything they wanted to do or that girls should only be in certain careers. If anyone did say that, Katharine certainly wasn’t listening.
“Absolutely amazing” is how Vanessa Wyche would describe her career at NASA. Having the ability to have a profession in one’s area of interest is rewarding, but being able to do that and work at NASA is pretty awesome.
Sarah Ruiz’s interest in NASA began as a high school freshman when she was challenged by her high school physics teacher to enter a contest. She won the regional prize and traveled to KSC to present a Mars experiment design—an experience which exposed her to the variety of amazing things NASA was doing, including preparations for the STS-61 Hubble repair mission. For the first time, she realized that doing “space stuff” was a viable career option.
In high school, when other students may have asked for a spring break trip to the beach, Tricia Mack asked to go to Florida to tour the Kennedy Space Center. She still remembers the tour and excitedly taking photos of the space shuttle launch pads (even empty). Years later, she’d actually work in the shuttle on the pad days before launch as part of her duties as an Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) or “spacewalk” flight controller and instructor at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.
Anna Turner’s first day at NASA was exciting. Every step was well organized and professional. She could tell that working at NASA was going to be different than any previous job.
Growing up on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, Latonia Kirksey always had a desire to live her life as an opportunity to make a difference in the world. She was fortunate to have a loving family and the chance to grow up in a small and friendly community where everyone knew each other. She continually received encouragement from her family, friends, and members of her church which motivated her to try to make the most out of her life.
Nikki’s greatest inspirations growing up were her parents. Neither had a college degree but they encouraged her and her siblings to do well in school. From a very early age, she knew that she was going to college.
From the time she was a little girl, Michelle Haupt has loved flying on airplanes. As she grew, she wondered what it would be like to travel in space. She discovered that mathematics was her favorite school subject. These interests led Haupt’s decision in seventh grade to become an aerospace engineer.
Rula Coroneos was born in Crete, Greece and immigrated to Salt Lake City, Utah in her junior year of high school. Even though her English was limited, she understood and studied mathematics—the universal language of science—with ease.
Quiana Reese was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but admits to not knowing that there was a NASA facility in Cleveland, located right next to the airport which she had frequented often.
Cynthia Simmons remembers her fascination with space started early in life watching TV shows like Star Trek. Watching the first moon landing gave her more reason to dream of designing spaceships like the Starship Enterprise. At night, she would look at the stars imagining herself traveling in space spending a lifetime exploring.
Joining the workforce at the early age of 16, Cindy Leitell didn’t realize at that time that she’d entered into what would be her career.
Judy Bruner grew up in rural Ohio, where she developed an early love of space and aviation, which would become the cornerstones of her future professional life. Her love of space began as she peered through a small telescope in the backyard looking at the moon and then followed NASA’s journey to the first moon landing.
As a child, Donna didn’t think about or plan her life toward a career. As the oldest of five sisters and one brother growing up in a home challenged with poverty, alcoholism and violence, her earliest focus became survival.
Tresa Mitchell knew from the time she was a very little girl that she had a devout passion for two things: drag racing and NASA.
Chana Johnson grew up in Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, and is a daughter of educators. So it probably wasn’t a surprise when Chana’s affinity for math and science combined with her curiosity about how things work to lead her to an engineering degree and, eventually, a career at NASA.
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.
While growing up in a small town in Mississippi only 35 miles from Stennis Space Center, Pat never imagined she would one day be the Deputy Chief Financial Officer at a NASA Facility. Growing up, her family had extremely limited resources. Truth be known, they were very poor.
Monica’s mother’s example taught her that hard work pays off. She was a single parent raising five children, and she remains Monica’s inspiration. From her mother, she learned three fundamental life lessons: to be true to herself; to be honest, regardless of the situation; and for every blessing she receives, to help someone else.
One of Nancy’s earliest memories of NASA was in 1969 when her mom anxiously called her inside the house to look at the television. At the time, Nancy assumed adults could do almost anything, and she wondered why her mother made such a big deal about it. It was not until Nancy became an adult that she finally realized what a monumental achievement sending a man to moon really was.
In elementary school, Jill was that girl who loved Barbies, but mostly because she was all about modifying and constructing new and improved versions of her ‘Dream House’ from whatever she could find. Her family spent most of their weekends sailing together on the Chesapeake Bay. Looking back now, she realizes that it was her desire to design and build improved structures and her respect for teamwork that led her to find her dream career in aerospace engineering.
Rosemary Baize began her career in 1988, working as an aerospace technologist in wind tunnels at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. She supported tests on Pegasus boosters, was a project engineer and served as a facility safety head. But she didn’t stop there.
Maybe it is not surprising that Deborah ended up in engineering. Growing up, she loved math and science in school. Algebra is one of her favorite things. There is also the influence of her family: her dad is an electrical engineer and her mom is a chemist.
As a child, one of Roberta’s favorite memories was when her whole family gathered around the TV to watch the Apollo missions to the moon. She vividly remembers when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong said those magic words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
As Valerie looks back on her life and career, all she can say is “not bad for a farm girl from Wisconsin. ” She cannot say she ever dreamed of working for NASA; however, she is extremely thankful that her journeys led her here. Her career choices did not seem to be suitable for the highly technical science and engineer-oriented agency. Yet, she was never so wrong. NASA encompasses all types of disciplines including education and accounting.
Linda’s earliest memory of space was hearing about the Russians and Sputnik and monkeys flying in space. The world was much different then. There was no Internet or Google. Television offerings were limited, but this was big news at the time. Little did she know that one day NASA would be in her future.
Born and raised in a suburb outside of Sacramento, California, Katie grew up in a close-knit family and had a very happy childhood. She absolutely loved school and learning, and when she was in 5th grade, Katie had the opportunity to attend a week of Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama which sparked her love of NASA.
Despite being a Houston, Texas native, Janelle Holt thought that only engineers and scientists could work for NASA. She was introduced to NASA career possibilities for business students during a Career Fair at her alma mater, the University of Houston.
Before coming to NASA, Terrian Nowden worked part-time in the Co-operative Education Office of the junior college she’d been attending. One of her duties was to receive incoming calls from employers who wanted to list co-op positions for the students. When NASA Lewis Research Center (now Glenn Research Center (GRC) at Lewis Field) called to post various technician positions, she was very excited.
Creativity and a sense of adventure have benefitted Michelle Mader throughout her lifetime. Growing up in Cleveland, OH she loved to read, draw, and write poetry and stories. Travelling around the country with friends she discovered the love of exploring new places. That sense of adventure brought her to the NASA Lewis Research Center as a co-op student while pursuing a management degree.
Debbie always wanted to play the piano. It was the love of her life. While other kids were playing outside, she was inside practicing. It was the same in music college and playing with the band. She missed countless parties, holidays, and many life-changing events because she was working. But the sacrifice was worth it for her.
Hibah Rahmani was born in Pakistan, raised in Kuwait and moved to the United States after high school. Being fascinated with the beautiful night sky, she developed a passion for science, space and astronomy at a very young age.
Josephine Santiago-Bond didn’t grow up wanting to work for NASA. Having grown up in the Philippines, NASA was half a world away, and was something she had only read about in old history books, or occasionally heard about on television.
For Crystal Leathers Jones, growing up surrounded by drugs, crime and poverty made her dreams of working for NASA seem unreachable. Through her determination, hard work and perseverance, Crystal was able to change the course of her life and blaze a path of success that her siblings and others growing up in similar situations could follow.
Beverly Girten knew at an early age that she wanted to work for NASA. Through her mother’s encouragement and her deep curiosity about science in general and space in particular, and her strong work ethic, she was able to get a solid education.
For Bonnie Seaton, the path to NASA was anything but straight-forward. She initially studied nursing at the State University of New York at Buffalo and after three years of study realized that nursing was not the right career path for her.
Growing up in a small Cajun town in Louisiana, Pam Bourque had no idea that she would one day become an attorney and work for NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center. As a child she loved school, and her parents encouraged her to work hard so she could get a scholarship to college.
Growing up, Victoria Garcia had a knack for being the “handyman” of the family. Being deaf and a daughter of Cuban immigrants motivated her to work hard to prove herself. Today, she uses her problem solving skills performing analysis as a system engineer.
Stephanie’s parents owned a dry cleaning business in Alabama, and it was one of few successful Black-owned businesses in the 1960s. As a child, she saw her parents and siblings work hard to serve the community, provide excellent customer service, and earn a reputation for quality work. This taught her lessons she used later in life.
Dr. Valerie Meyers was exposed to the idea of human spaceflight at family gatherings where her uncle, who worked at Link Flight Simulation in Houston, talked about his job developing simulators to train astronauts. Her personal journey to NASA began in fifth grade when an article in Weekly Reader magazine mentioned NASA would be looking for people with doctorate degrees in chemistry, physics, mathematics, and astronomy to work on a space station they were developing.
At a very young age, Heather became a very driven girl. Inspired by the Challenger disaster in 1986, she has turned her childhood dream to work for NASA into a reality. As a college student looking for her opportunity to work for NASA, Maliska participated in an internship at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.
For Monica Ceruti, the trick has been to learn how to balance work and family without compromising either. Today, in addition to having a rewarding home life, her two sons are on the road to having rewarding careers: her oldest son is a college graduate and her youngest son is a cadet at the United States Coast Guard Academy.
While growing up in Puerto Rico, Julie Ann Rivera Perez never imagined she would work for NASA. Most people might say they could only hope or dream to work for NASA, but Ms. Rivera never even imagined it would be her who would eventually get a job in what is now the #1 Place to Work in the Federal Government.
For Wendy Holladay, the trick has been to balance her large family of 6 with her fast moving career at NASA. To accomplish both, she spent 20 of her 29 years at NASA Stennis Space Center as a part-time employee. And, for Ms. Holladay, it has made all of the difference.
For Mary Ann, her path to NASA began as a cooperative education (co-op) student in 1974. She hailed from the University of Maryland in College Park as she found her place at NASA. Little did she know that she would lead two careers, one at NASA and one in the Navy Reserve.
For Misty Davies, it was all about making the world a better place. She grew up wanting to be a veterinarian, a writer, a mother, and a scientist.
Seeming coincidences may not be accidental. Giving a lab tour to a seminar speaker led to Mia Siochi coming to NASA Langley Research Center when that speaker happened to be the head of the Composites and Polymers Branch who was looking for someone to support its polymers characterization need of the branch.
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 the such occupations since many members of her family served in the military and worked as civil servants.
The opportunity to explore Mars for signs of life is what inspired Dr. Jennifer Eigenbrode to join NASA. She wants to answer the question that has been asked for thousands of years — is “life” unique to Earth.
For Karen Gundy-Burlet, Walter Cronkite’s broadcasts of the Apollo moon missions were particularly inspirational. The thrill of watching the moon landings and excursions extended her interest in aircraft to the aerospace field and a desire to work for NASA.
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.
Judy Ballance grew up on a rural farm in northern Alabama, and like most kids around her, she never dreamed that she would work for NASA. Her only childhood experiences related to NASA were watching the moon landings on TV and looking at an exhibit of moon rocks that came to her school.
For Elia Ordóñez, giving back to her native Hispanic community is paramount in her life. Ms. Ordóñez was born in Moctezuma, Chihuahua, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States in 1974.
For Diane Sims, Hurricane Katrina was a not only a moment of destruction and guilt but also of belief and compassion in the human spirit. She recalls, “I remember having a huge sense of guilt because my house survived, and I was the only one in my office that wasn’t displaced.”
Being open to new opportunities has brought Amy Bower many great adventures. Growing up in a rural community in central Ohio, she explored the farm, the fields and the surrounding woods. She loved school, especially math and science.
Catherine’s road to NASA began at an early age when she declared, in front of her classmates, that she wanted to be the first female astronaut. A young male student rebutted that girls could not become astronauts. Her teacher would have nothing of it, immediately looking at Ms. Bahm and ensuring she knew she could be whatever she wanted to be.
When Charlene Butler was growing up, she, along with many other young people, thought that it would be cool to work for NASA one day. Little would she have guessed that her dream would begin to unfold during ninth grade for it was in Ms. Butler’s freshman year that she decided on a career in the Computer/Information Technology (IT) field.
To some, the way Anne Mills came to where she is today might seem like serendipity, but she would tell you that it was destiny. At age 16, she started her first day at NASA as a summer intern in the Procurement Division.
Connie Snapp aspired to be an artist and a writer with the long-ago dream of writing and illustrating her own books. She would never have predicted that she would one day work for NASA.
As the mother of three daughters and spouse to a NASA employee, Anita Douglas had to quickly learn how to balance work and family without compromising either. Today, in addition to having a rewarding home life, all three of her daughters are in college.
For Charmel Jones, the journey to NASA was unexpected. Although she strived to be an engineer since the age of 10, she never imagined in a million years that she would be, or could ever be, a part of the NASA family. Growing up in a single-parent household in Palmetto, Fla., Ms. Jones was faced with the stereotypical persona that she would not amount to anything because of growing up in an “unbalanced” family.
Tiffaney Miller Alexander knew by the time she was in sixth grade that she wanted to become an electrical engineer. Sparked by her interest to know how electronic devices worked coupled with the inspiration of her mother becoming the first in her family to earn a college degree, overcome a battle with cancer, and her faith in God, Tiffaney believed she had a great motivational example of determination and resilience to help her along her career journey.
Dr. Margaret Nazario began her journey into engineering when she was a senior in high school taking physics. While her love of inventing and problem solving provided an architectural roadmap for her future, it was the encouragement and guidance of the teachers who recognized her special talents that put her life on a trajectory that would land her at NASA, where she continues to be inspired and challenged to reach even greater heights.
Pamela Marcum’s journey to becoming a NASA scientist began in a rural coal-mining community in eastern Kentucky. A public school system weak in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum, and a lack of mentors to provide career guidance resulted in her path being everything but a well-chartered course to a pre-defined destination.
As a child, Teresa Foley-Batts really did not think about or plan her life toward any particular career. She was the oldest of five children, and after her parents divorced, the family moved from Nashville, Tenn. to Huntsville, Ala.
For Corazon Millena, NASA was an ocean away since she was born in the Philippines. Her family immigrated to the US in 1975 to San Jose, Calif., where she immediately secured a job as a customer service representative at J. C. Penny Co.
Gwen Young was a military brat and moved a lot during her childhood. Making friends was difficult, but a young Gwen found solace in school, excelling in math and science.
The daughter of an educator and an aeronautical engineer, Kathleen Howell grew up in southern California with varied influences, among them interests in dance, mathematics and aviation.
For Sharmila Bhattacharya, success is not measured by medals or money but by seeing her experiments flown in space, a dream of flight fuelled by her father, a pilot, who told her that being a girl would not deter her from earning a pilot’s license or from being “absolutely anything she wanted to be …”
If someone were to try to keep up with all of Jill Noble’s activities, accomplishments, and contributions to the community, they’d need a more powerful machine that even NASA could build. They would also need a positive outlook, a strong moral compass, and an impeccable work ethic—qualities her parents instilled in her, early on.
When QuynhGiao Nguyen immigrated from Vietnam to the United States at age 7, she didn’t speak a word of English and had no idea she would grow up to be a NASA scientist.
For Lelia Vann, moving forward in her life meant stepping back from everything she had worked so hard to accomplish, and asking the big question: Why?
Dovie Lacy, who first and foremost sees herself as a teacher, took a circuitous route to arrive at NASA – yet arrive she did in 1984.
Wendy Pennington discovered her natural passion and inclination for engineering while enrolled in a mechanical drafting class in high school. While her love of drawing and design provided an architectural roadmap for her future, it was the encouragement and guidance of the teachers who recognized this young woman’s special talents that put her life on a trajectory that would land her at NASA, where she continues to be inspired and challenged to reach even greater heights.
Jennifer Heldmann studies recent water on Mars through spacecraft data analysis, numerical modeling, and fieldwork in Mars-analog environments. Perhaps more exciting for her personally are her studies into the moon, with “a focus on improving our understanding of the lunar poles.”
As a child, Ginger Kerrick dreamed of growing up to be either a basketball player or an astronaut. When neither dream came to fruition, Ms. Kerrick developed a fresh perspective – best summed up by the phrase “It just wasn’t meant to be” – and is today part of NASA, serving in the Mission Control Center at the NASA Johnson Space Center as a Flight Director.
While Neil Armstrong was taking his first steps on the surface of the moon, a 6-year-old girl named Huy Tran was climbing a tree. She wanted to climb high enough to watch the historical event unfold through a part in the palm roof of someone else’s home in Vietnam, and she achieved that goal.