Author Archives: gcrepps

Dr. Amanda West

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Meet Dr. Amanda West! A former NASA DEVELOP National Program participant, Center Lead, and current mentor to the program. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in ecology. Read on to discover her path to a career in the Earth sciences.

Dr. Amanda West teaching during a remote sensing and GIS workshop.

Dr. Amanda West teaching during a remote sensing and GIS workshop.

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?
As a child I was always very curious about the Earth and how organisms interact. Earth Science has been an intrinsic passion for me for as long as I can remember, therefore it is hard to pinpoint a discovery moment.

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?
I am currently employed as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University. On my first day of work, I felt astounded that I was no longer a student and realized that I was truly following my passion for research and teaching.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I enjoy the diversity of research and teaching projects that I am involved in. It is never monotonous!

What inspired you to work in this field?
My passion for observing and increasing our understanding of the Earth and promoting conservation.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?
Never take time for granted – Gandhi is quoted: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever”. Always be true to yourself. Embrace and share gratitude.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Earning a PhD in Ecology.

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?
During a former career, I had to follow a regulation that did not agree with my values. From this experience, I learned that it is important to always consider the perspective of other interested parties despite what I consider may consider fair and rational.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?
My father, who told me to be true to myself and never let anyone convince me otherwise.

How has your career been different than what you’d imagined?
My current career falls more in line with what I imagined when I started graduate school. A former career that I had between my MS and PhD programs was not what I imagined or desired (and this led to my pursuit of a PhD).

Did you have to overcome any gender barriers in your career?
Yes; a couple of examples in a former career were the notions that I could not conduct the same type of field work as male colleagues or drive a truck pulling a trailer or boat (these were quickly disproven by my actions!). I have also had to overcome name calling related to gender both in and out of work, which I addressed promptly by telling each respective individual that this behavior is inappropriate.

What does your future hold?
I want to continue research and teaching in remote sensing and geospatial modeling, to promote conservation of natural resources.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation?
Pursue your passion, and trust what follows.

Women in History Shout Out: Susan Solomon

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Susan at her office at NOAA in Boulder, Colorado

Susan at her office at NOAA in Boulder, Colorado

Susan Solomon is a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) senior scientist at the Aeronomy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. She is credited with being the primary contributor to the discovery of the cause of the ‘hole’ in the ozone, or the depletion of atmospheric ozone over Antarctica in the late 80’s. Her research is internationally acclaimed and set the global community on the path to institute a ban on the chemicals that destroy the ozone and threaten human health. In 2009, she contributed to break-through research on global climate change in which she demonstrated with concrete evidence that current choices regarding carbon emissions will affect Earth’s future climate and ultimately change the planet irreversibly.

Susan on an Antarctic expedition in 1987 joined by Emperor penguins.

Susan on an Antarctic expedition in 1987 joined by Emperor penguins

Susan was born in 1956, and by high school she was already enamored with atmospheric science; she earned third place in a national science contest for a project in which she measured the oxygen content in various gaseous mixtures. She studied chemistry at the Illinois Institute of Technology and earned her doctorate at the University of California Berkeley in 1981. Susan began working at NOAA shortly after and has worked as a public servant ever since.

Susan has won several national and international awards including the National Medal of Science, the Blue Planet Prize, the Montreal Protocol Tenth Anniversary Award from the United Nations Environment Program, and the Samuel J Heyman Service to America Medal.  In addition to her award winning discoveries, Susan is committed to being a mentor and a role model for women in science and advises students at all levels. Dr. Susan Solomon shines as an ambassador of science in the service of humanity.

Writing Credit: Sarah Carroll

Sources: NOAASamuel J Heyman Service to America Medals

Dr. Stephanie Adams

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Check out our interview with Dr. Stephanie Adams, Dean of the Batton College of Engineering and Technology at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Dr. Adams was a NASA intern early in her career and returned recently to NASA Langley Research Center to give a keynote speech honoring Black History Month. Learn about her journey becoming an engineer and an educator of future engineers.

Dr. Stephanie Adams

Dr. Stephanie Adams

How have you been engaged with NASA?
I was an intern at NASA during the summer of 1988. I believe I was in the Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars (LARSS) program.

How did you discover your passion for STEM?
As a child I was interested in being a physician. In 9th grade I suffered my first knee injury and discovered Biomedical Engineering about the same time. I thought how cool would it be to design a totally artificial knee, soft tissue and all.

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?
I am the Dean of Engineering at Old Dominion University. My first day was July 11, 2017 and I remember being both nervous and excited. Excited as I had been working toward this goal for the last 10 years. I was nervous because I would be walking into a new environment, where no one knew me and I wondered how I would be received and welcomed.

Dr. Christine Darden and Dr. Stephanie Adams

Dr. Christine Darden and Dr. Stephanie Adams

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I have the opportunity to create an environment where students can achieve their dreams while studying in an environment where diversity and multiple perspectives are highly valued and the balance of practice and theory exists.

What inspired you to work in this field?
I originally became an engineer to develop artificial knees which would help people. I decided to become a professor and an administrator to help people achieve their own goals.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?

“Play the hand you are dealt in life.” Some circumstances you can’t change. All you can do is persevere in spite of them.

“Walk in your own shoes.”  Be you!!  Don’t try to be someone else: a big sister, cousin, brother, friend. Be ok with who you are and own.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
I think completing my bachelors degree with honors after being told my SAT score was not strong enough to be an engineer.

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?
I left a great position I loved to move closer to family for what seemed like a lateral move. Turns out the new position was a disaster and I had to decide what to do next. Should I return to the job I loved? Should I stay in a job, in an unsupportive environment? Should I take a pay cut and have peace of mind? Should I look for another job? What was the right decision. Leaning on the quote I offered in the last question of the interview, I left job, took a pay cut, had peace of mind and in no time at all, I found a new job in a supportive environment.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?
First and foremost, my parents. They instilled in me that I could do and be anything I wanted. They also encouraged me to seek mentors, who have provided me invaluable counsel in pursuit of my goals and dreams.

How has your career been different than what you’d imagined?
I thought I’d be an orthopedic surgeon and develop artificial knees. I am not even close to that goal. I have no regrets about it, though I do wonder from time to time how my life would be different.

Did you have to overcome any gender barriers in your career?
I am sure that I have but they have not been obvious. I think if anything I wonder if the barriers have been due to race or gender. My upbringing was to do your best and not to look for reasons things didn’t happen to or for you. This has been how I have governed myself.

What does your future hold?
I hope to become a University President, travel a lot, play golf and take lots of pictures.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation?
“Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that as well.”  Maya Angelou

This quote gives the reader permission to make multiple changes in life if things are not working out the way envisioned. It has served me well on multiple occasions.

 

Shania Sanders

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Check out our latest installment of women in science with this interview with Shania Sanders, and learn about her journey from a intern to a computer programmer at NASA Langley Research Center.

Shania Sanders

Shania Sanders

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?
I started learning about Earth Science as a NASA intern. I loved the fact that you could look at data on your computer and then walk outside and see what you were studying for yourself.

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?
I work at NASA Langley Research Center as a computer programmer. I actually started out in the office I work in now as an intern. I was pretty excited because I had never worked at a research center before.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Having the ability to work on a lot of different projects is awesome.

What inspired you to work in this field?
High school robotics teams and collaborative projects with local universities inspired me to start working in STEM fields.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?
Read the instructions or requirements for whatever you’re building or working on. And once you think you understand them, read them again.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?
I was an intern working on a research and development project for a particular type of communication network. When it came time to test the network, I couldn’t get the testing setup right (which meant the project couldn’t move forward). Time for my internship was running out, and I really wanted to get the tests done to ensure that I actually understood the concepts I had been studying. One day, I sat down and thought about everything that went wrong. That’s when I realized that I had been so determined on making one method work that I hadn’t considered trying a completely new approach. I thought that giving up on that one approach meant I was quitting. I completely redesigned the testing approach and was able to finish everything. In the end, I learned that admitting something doesn’t work isn’t quitting. Sometimes you just have to take a different approach to get to your goal.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?
My mom and my mentors have had the biggest influence on my life. They taught me that whenever you approach a challenge, approach it with integrity, patience, and a positive attitude.

How has your career been different than what you’d imagined?
When I graduated from high school, my goal was to get a dual degree in mechanical engineering and history. I ended up with a Master’s degree in Computer Science, I’m working on my MBA, and I work as a computer programmer. So things definitely didn’t turn out like I thought they would, but I don’t regret it. I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined by becoming a computer scientist.

What does your future hold?
I have no idea! I can say that I’m pretty excited about the different things I’ll learn and the people I’ll get to work with.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation?
Don’t quit. If you don’t have the skills to follow up with something you’re interested in, go out and learn what is necessary to gain that skill. If you don’t feel like you’re good at what you do, keep practicing. If you don’t have the tools to make something you think would be cool, make the tools yourself. There are no limits in STEM. So whenever you think that you’ve gotten to a point to where your goal is impossible, try a new path or make a new one. But whatever you do, don’t quit.

 

International Women’s Day

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Today is the day to celebrate the diverse accomplishments of women across the globe. It’s International Women’s Day! According to internationalwomensday.com, this day “marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

Let’s take a quick look at some of the history behind this influential day:

Clara Zetkin

Clara Zetkin

The first National Woman’s Day began in the United States in 1909. Just a year later, at the
second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin proposed the concept of an International Women’s Day. The day was first recognized on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland where “more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination” (internationalwomensday.com).

What values propel this day in history?

DEVELOP Participants at girls in STEM Event

Supporting girls in STEM event

International Women’s Day holds unique meanings for many people, yet the message of equal opportunity, ceremony, and appreciation remain the same.  There are ten identified values behind this celebration:

Justice, Dignity, Hope, Equality, Collaboration, Tenacity, Appreciation, Respect, Empathy, Forgiveness

We hope you are inspired by these values as you celebrate International Women’s Day today!

 

Writing Credit: Christine Stevens
Sources: internationalwomensday.com

Christie Funk

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We’re kicking off our women in science spotlight series with an interview with Christie Funk. Learn about Christie’s path to her current position leading NASA Langley’s Regional Economic Development program and some lessons she’s learned along the way!

Funk_3

How did you discover your passion for STEM?
I grew up in Virginia Beach near military bases. Jets are just COOL!

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?
I currently work in the Office of Strategic Analysis, Communications and Business Development (OSACB) leading NASA Langley Research Center’s Regional Economic Development (RED) program. Prior to that, I worked as a Research Aerospace Engineer in the Aeroelasticity Branch at NASA Langley Research Center. I remember my first day of work as if it was just yesterday. I was a Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars (LARSS) student and had my first assignment as an engineering intern in the Aeroelasticity Branch/Transonic Dynamics Tunnel (TDT). I remember the butterflies in my stomach as I drove through the NASA gate for the very first time. I remember how proud I felt to wear my NASA badge. I remember feeling excited, determined to never leave, and terrified that I would fail. On my first day, I was introduced to my mentors; two gentlemen (Dr. Walt Silva and Mr. Boyd Perry, III) who, over the years, would become sources of inspiration, my strongest advocates, my teachers, and my friends. On day one, I stood inside the TDT and felt overwhelmed by where I was, the history wrapped up in the testing conducted there, and the fact that I was standing inside a wind tunnel. Boyd spent time gauging where I was with my knowledge base (or lack thereof) and showed me equations that looked like a foreign language to me (I now know those squiggly characters and matrices represented the Aeroelastic equation of motion). I should mention that I was granted the internship opportunity without having an engineering degree at the time (that’s another story). I returned to my desk and made a game plan: Do whatever it takes to stay here. And so the story goes, head in the books until I understand. I didn’t cry until I left work for the day; I was in over my head. I never thought they would let me stay, but the story had a happy ending.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I get to build things, I get to create things. I get to contribute to an Agency that strives to improve Humankind. I get to be a part of paving the way for future generations.

What inspired you to work in this field?
A combination of seeing my first shuttle launch (Endeavor) and JFK’s famous speech.

“…First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish….” – JFK

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?

From left to right: Kimberly Brush, Yolanda Shea, Christie Funk, Denisse Aranda

From left to right: Kimberly Brush, Yolanda Shea, Christie Funk, Denisse Aranda

Perseverance pays off. This lesson sits at the top of my list.
Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
If I’m prepared, opportunity will knock.
A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there. Seek growth.
Recognize and appreciate those who help along the way and pay it forward. People matter.

 

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
My M.S. in Aerospace Engineering is my greatest accomplishment. My background happens to fall off the beaten path. I didn’t have an undergraduate degree in a STEM field when I pursued my M.S. At the time, I had a B.A. in Business Management and I was finishing up a non-technical Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science. My M.S. is a shared accomplishment. It is shared with my mentors at NASA, my co-workers, my professors at Old Dominion University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, my family, and my friends. It is the accomplishment that led me to being hired at NASA. Graduation day wasn’t just graduation day. It was a day that marked the result of years and years of mistakes, successes and failures, and true grit.

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?
I have recently changed jobs at NASA Langley. I began my career as a LARSS student in 2008. I worked in the Aeroelasticity Branch throughout my time as an intern and then during my participation in NASA’s Pathways program. Following graduation, I was hired into the Aeroelasticity Branch. In 2015, I was accepted into NASA’s Foundations of Influence, Relationships, Success, and Teamwork (FIRST) leadership development program. Throughout my year in FIRST, I had the opportunity to explore other career paths within NASA. As a result, I sought out a temporary detail position in OSACB. I wanted to merge my business and engineering backgrounds while contributing to the Agency and impacting lives. At the end of my detail, and after much deliberation, I decided to leave my engineering position and continue work in OSACB focusing on regional economic development activities. The decision-making process to make this change taught me to think about what I really want out of my career and what type of impact I want to make. It also taught me that my fear of losing support from colleagues in my previous role was make-believe. As it turned out, the people who had surrounded me throughout my career wanted to help me grow.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?
Funk_2The list is too long and there is never just one. The most influential lessons I’ve learned haven’t come from books. “All work is admirable”, something my grandfather once told me because I was embarrassed to be serving sandwiches behind the counter in a Schlotzskys Deli. “The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall”, Nelson Mandela once said. Humility, kindness, strength, fairness and equality, compassion, integrity, acceptance, and tolerance; the foundations of lessons I’ve learned from others.

How has your career been different than what you’d imagined?
As a former restaurant manager, my wildest dreams never realized NASA was in my future, but here I am. I used to imagine that I would have one job. Within NASA, there are so many opportunities to work in different fields, so I no longer think of my career in the scope of one job. I now think of my career as an opportunity to use my skills and abilities to impact the world through various roles.

Did you have to overcome any gender barriers in your career?
I don’t think I’ve been faced with gender barriers in my career. While the female population in STEM fields is much smaller than the male population, I have only encountered support throughout my career.

What does your future hold?
I have no idea! There was a time when I saw my future-self sitting in a glass window office making those big decisions that help shape NASA’s direction and there was a time when I saw myself working on wind-tunnel models and computing gust loads for most of my career. Now, I see my future-self as striving to work in roles where I can be the best contributor that I can be and where I can make a difference. Clayton Turner, one of my mentors during FIRST, taught me that I can lead from any chair. I see leadership in my future but it no longer matters to me where I sit.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation?

Purpose_VennDiagram

 

Hello from the Women@NASA Blog!

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Welcome to the Women@NASA blog! We are reviving the blog beginning this month, Women’s History month. Our blog posts will feature interviews with NASA scientists and other women leaders in STEM fields, highlight significant women in science’s history, and various topics of relevance to NASA and women in science today. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!