The First Female IBM CEO

Well, IBM finally did it.  The tech giant stood by their assertion that she is the most qualified candidate with her status as senior vice president and key role in snagging PriceWaterhouseCooper’s Consulting.  For those who haven’t heard, IBM chose Virginia “Ginni” Rometty as chief executive officer (CEO), making her the first female CEO in the company’s century of history. 

It makes me smile to think she wasn’t chosen because she was female but because she was qualified.  Believe it or not, I am SO not a feminist.  My involvement in this site is out of interest to inspire young girls more than anything else.  I pretty much don’t care or think about my gender when it comes to what I do.  I just pursue what I want and get most of it (sans astronaut status and I am sure that has nothing to do with my gender).  However, I will say that as I read my normal media sites, I notice more and more the disparity between men and women in the news.  Especially tech news.  For instance, CNN recently named five fascinating people “we should know” and all five were male. Or how about this:  Forbes named their 20 most powerful CEOs under 40 and not one is a female!  Not a single one.  Does this mean we young women are not good at being high up management or are we simply not in those positions?  I have no idea since the private world and I never talk or meet or have dinner.  I am in my cacoon of governmental protection whilst the world revolves.  Here’s one more rant before I give up on this topic:  Fortune’s 40 under 40 (which is really 44 after ties) has only six women listed.  That’s right-six.  I could almost count them all on one hand. That’s all I will say for now. I mean-really, these are articles we should all read and be proud of the men who have done some amazing work at an age where most people are just getting rolling in life.  However, we should also wonder if our daugthers and sisters and nieces are not being recognized, or not pursuing such dreams, or prioritizing other things over such dreams, or not being given the opportunities.  I can live with some of these reasons, but lack of recognition and opportunity are inexcusable.  Now, if only I could figure out the culprit issue…

After starting this blog and now sub-conciously looking for material about which to write, I take more and more notice of these things.  Part of me wishes I could go back to my world of ignorance and thinking that finally we are in a world (or at the least, country) where men and women are equal.  I mean, from where I stand, we are.  Alas, though, my eyes are opening wide when I read these articles.  And it fuels me more everyday to go and speak to classrooms and show young girls that they can grow up to be successful.  Train astronauts even.  Or perhaps be one themselves.  Or go into finance.  Or management.  Or anything their sweet girly hearts desire.  Sans Hollywood.

What do you think?

Breaking News: Civil Rights Leader Dies

Patricia Due did what most of us are scared to do.  Get in trouble.  For rights we have today because of her courage.  At the ripe age of 20, Due refused to give up her seat at a counter in Florida.  Her defiance led to an arrest and a 49 day stint in jail.  After 50 years of believing in equality for all, she passed away at the age of 72 after succumbing to thyroid cancer. 

“I didn’t know it then, but refusing to back down would be a trademark in my life.” – Patricia Due

The Excitement of Curiosity

It’s been an exciting few days, from the chanting of “NASA! NASA! NASA!” in Times Square to the cover of major news outlets like CNN.  After all, the latest of NASA’s rovers landed on Mars at 1:31ET on August 6, 2012.  What makes this rover so different from its predecessors?  Sheer size!  Think of the others like remote control cars with which young kids  play and think of Curiosity like the real life sized version of an SUV.  Imagine having to remotely land such a beast in a terrain for which you only have pictures at best. With the scientific world watching and dollar signs hovering nearby.  All things aside, the successful landing is a huge technological advancement and that alone is exciting!  The upcoming two years of discovery are surely promising.  To celebrate a such a moment in our space program’s history, Women@NASA spoke with Ann Devereaux at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the center responsible for NASA’s unmanned space program.  Ann is the deputy lead engineer for the descent, entry, and landing of Curiosity, and we are so proud of her and her entire team!

Congratulations to entire NASA and JPL team!

What inspired you to work at NASA?

I grew up near Kennedy Space Center and always loved the idea of the adventure of going into space, scratching at the cosmos as those rockets blasted into the sky. I would see pictures of the planets in books with “Credit: NASA” on them, and I knew I wanted to be one of those people that made them happen. As a kid, I gobbled up all sorts of sci-fi: books, comics, TV, movies, but NASA was the place where sci-fi became real.

Do you remember what it was like on your first day of work at NASA?

I’ve been lucky enough to have had a couple experiences – first, as a student intern in high school where in the proudest moment of my young life, I was able to drive past the gates of KSC and actually be right there where the rockets were launched, and not be just watching them from across the water as I had for so many years. The second experience was as a new college graduate who had just moved across country to come work at JPL, knowing that this was going to be the place that I built my career.

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

Designing, building, testing and operating equipment that has to survive the space environment, which is so unforgiving. You have to be constantly asking yourself what you might be missing. Our spacecraft are so complex and so capable, you want to make sure that you and your team have done everything possible to make them successful. It is hard to consider all the “unknown unknowns” when so much that NASA does is the first time anyone has done these things, ever!

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Being a part of the fantastic team that has brought MSL up from simple paper concept to being at the edge of landing on another planet, to bring back more knowledge about Mars than we’ve ever had before – that’s a profound gift and I’m happy to have been able to make the contributions I have. I’ve worked a lot of different aspects on the project – from telecommunications, to avionics and fault protection, to EDL. I have had to learn a huge amount at every turn, and it’s really made me appreciate the flexibility you need to have as an engineer. I have to be able to work in a big team to make big things happen.

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?

I worked on Mars Observer, which was unfortunately lost just as it got to the planet. I had only worked a few months on it, so I hadn’t had the investment in it that so many others had. But I was still shocked and demoralized when we lost it. It really taught me that things can never be certain in our business and that we have to do everything we can to ensure success. However, we have to be able to also learn from the failures and move on to do better things.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?

I’ve had many people who helped me, but one boss back when I was pretty new taught me something particularly compelling: There’s no such thing as “no” solution. I learned through hard experience that I could never come up to him and just shrug my shoulders on to indicate that I didn’t know why something couldn’t be done or couldn’t find someone to do something we needed. His first question would be “What else have you tried?”. So I learned pretty fast that I needed to do all the “What else?” beforehand, of my own volition! This is a personal philosophy that I now carry forward into everything I do. In fact, now I tell folks who work for me the same thing, “Ok, we have a problem, but we can’t just quit. How do we move forward?”

How has your career been different than what you’d imagined?

My career has covered all sorts of bends and corners I’d have never expected! I have had so many experiences – working with s/c electronics, Deep Space Network communications, doing field engineering in Antarctica and Brazil for technology demonstrations, working with Space Station and now participating in a landing on Mars. I think having too strict an idea of exactly where you want to be means that you’re not open to new opportunities. A big part of why NASA is such a great place to work is that there is such a diversity of things to do and experience, it encourages us to stretch beyond what we might otherwise have been able to imagine.

Did you have to overcome any gender barriers in your career?

Not really. I went to school and now have worked in very male oriented disciplines (communications and electronics) and many times – even now – I can go into good sized meetings and not see another woman attending! But I’ve always considered myself to be just an engineer, and I find my male colleagues have treated me accordingly. This doesn’t mean I haven’t occasionally pointed out (with good humor) when one of my colleagues has said something inappropriate, but I have found that as long as I treat them as equals, I get the same. I enjoy holding my own with anyone – male or female. Diversity is what makes it interesting!

What does your future hold?

I’d really like to work on some project proposals next – be able to come up with the original ideas for how to bring a science concept to life as a new spacecraft.

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

Hone your intuition, and be strong enough to make a call on a decision. Very few of our problems in any discipline have black or white answers. You have to balance what may be incomplete information on both sides of the question, and then make a judgement call. Don’t be afraid to do this! This is why we gain experience, so in the tough questions, we have enough information and enough gut feeling to be able to make those tough decisions. Being a person who is willing and able to do this allows you to really contribute to solutions, at every level of an organization.

Women in History Shout Out

“I like to think of my work as creating a private conversation with each person, no matter how public each work is and no matter how many people are present.” – Maya Lin

(1959- ) Maya Lin was an undergraduate archaeology student at Yale University when in 1981 she entered a contest for a Vietnam war memorial design.  She was selected as the winner, amid protests from a small but vocal group over the minimalistic, non-grandeur remembrance.  Her design became two walls of polished black granite set below grade on which the names of more than 58,000 Americans were carved and arranged chronologically, according to the year of death or disappearance.  Today, the Vietnam War memorial garners over 10,000 visitors daily and is often remarked for its powerful, abstract effect. She has balanced artistry, with a focus in landscapes, and architecture throughout her career, including a feature at the Pace Gallery in New York City.  She has long been attracted to social issues and addressed them in her memorials, such as the Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama and the Women’s Table at Yale University.  She was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama, and she continues to work today in her field of art and architecture.

To the Moon and Beyond…

When one of our own blog readers suggested I write a story about Maria Zuber, I had no idea that it would turn out to be a most invigorating conversation with a woman who has taken multitasking to an admirable level.  Dr. Zuber is the first woman to lead a NASA Robotics mission, having been selected for the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission to the moon.  This position is in addition to being the head of the Massachusets Institute of Technology’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science, an active professor guiding multiple doctoral students in their own quest towards a Ph.D., and a mother and wife in her private life.  


Dr. Zuber was selected to lead the GRAIL mission in 2008 because she was the best choice, as noted by selection committee member Alan Stern.  Dr. Zuber’s task was to lead over 80 engineers on the $400 million project that aims to send two small orbiters to the moon to study its gravitational field. 


Here’s my interview with her, which I think you will find informative and intriguing.  Thank you, Dr. Zuber for taking the time to share your story, science, and words of wisdom for our young women and girls.  I hope they see in you the possibilities.  The success.  The drive.  The balance.  And, most of all, the neutralization of gender in science. 


Mamta: Well, it looks like GRAIL had a great new year with the launch of both space probes and successful insertion into Lunar orbit.  Let’s begin by having you tell us a bit about the inspiration for GRAIL and what you ultimately hope to achieve.


MZ: From the time the first satellites were sent to orbit the moon to identify landing sites for Apollo, the presence of mascons [mass concentration containing a large positive gravitational anomaly] has been known but not well understood.  Even 40 years since Apollo, we still do not understand mascons and the gravitational field of the moon.  Nor how it relates to the inside of the moon and what it means for the moon’s evolution.  For those of us in the community of geophysics, gaining a more thorough understanding of the gravitational field is a top objective. 


Mamta:  When will we start getting data back from GRAIL, if not already?


MZ: Right now, the spacecraft is doing series of maneuvers that will get it into a mapping orbit.  The data collection will begin during the first week of March of this year. We do not expect to see a gravity field during that first week of data collection though.  The moon has to rotate under the spacecraft so after a month, we can produce a gravity field.  However, we don’t expect it be our best gravity field, but it will be way better than what we have currently.  Moreover, we presume that we will be able to see very high spatial resolution features such as the wings of major basins, large density variations in the lunar mantle, and evidence of melting.  The variations in the density of the crust are associated with intrusions or materials broken up in impacts.  To be honest, though, the largest probablity is that we will see things of which we have no idea because we have never had this type of graviational field:  the things we cannot possibly anticipate because we do not have the knowledge to anticipate them.


Mamta:  I read that your interest in space science began when you saw pictures of Jupiter from the Voyager mission.  Can you tell us more about your inspiration to go into science?


MZ:  Well, I was actually always interested in space.  When I was young, I built my own telescope, grounded my own optics, and then eventually I majored in astronomy and astrophysics in college.  However, when I first saw the pictures of Jupiter, that’s when I decided I would go into planetary science.  At that time, I was debating between astrophyics or aersopace engineering.  But those pictures defined my calling.  I thought to myself, No one had ever seen that before.  I believe that you are bound to have big discoveries when you produce something that no one has seen.  You don’t need a lab to find discoveries.  It’s a high risk but high return type of field because if you can get the spacecraft to its destination successfully, the images are discoveries.


Mamta: What advice would you give a young girl about a career in science?


MZ:  Sometimes girls don’t like to look like they are too smart in front of boys because they think boys don’t want to date smart girls.  But, I say do what you like and if some guy doesn’t want to date you because you are intelligent, then you don’t want to date him anyway!  Follow your passion, and things will work out.


Mamta:  Are there any challenges to being a female in your field? 


MZ: For me, it was probably when I missed work after I had my children.  I took six months off for each of of them and during that time I missed the Magellan mission.  But, I don’t regret it one bit, and I treasure every moment that I have spent with my family.  It’s a necessity to balance family and work.  When I won GRAIL, I was told that I was the first woman to lead a NASA planetary mission, but that was it.  It was just an  announcement. I don’t think I was treated any better or worse because I am a woman; I was not treated any differently.  I give NASA credit for handling the entire selection the way they did.  To be honest, a lot of people have contributed to GRAIL and the whole mission is non-hierarchical.  Whoever has knowledge is who we listen to the closest!  Everyone gets their say. 


Mamta: It is one of Women@NASA’s loftiest goals to encourage young girls to enter STEM fields.  I know GRAIL has the MoonKAM project to achieve this objective as well.   Can you tell us more? 


MZ: I consider it to be a huge privilege to use tax payer money to explore the solar system.  I take that very seriously and believe the public deserves to play a role in understanding it.  I am personally devoted to using space science in education.  For GRAIL, we wanted to do a wildy creative outreach program so when I was selected, I immediately went to Sally Ride, who has been inspirational to so many people and who has devoted herself to education.  She was very excited to a part of it and decided to expand her EarthKAM program that is currently part of the ISS program.  We decided to devote imaging of the moon fully to this education outreach.  Our target age group was middle school because at this age, the kids have to make the decision of taking more challenging science and math classes.  For MoonKAM, we decided to use rocket cameras [the kind that allow us to see the Space Shuttle launches on TV] because they are relatively inexpensive and are quite good.  We put four cameras on each spacecraft for GRAIL.  We went over budget,  but it was so important for us that we did it anyway.  For MoonKAM, middles schools can sign up to be a part of the project and the students will learn to use the software to select areas of the moon to image.  We may not get all of the suggested images, but we will get as many as we can.  We will then post the images online and the students can use the pictures to learn something about the moon.  In order for them to choose good sites, they will learn to use concepts of science, engineering, and math as it applies to collecting and analyzing data.  In fact, we have accepted the probablility that the kids will make discoveries!  I think we have proven that it is possible to do very creative things in science.  We are thrilled to have over 2100+ schools signed up, representing all 50 states.  Everyone can be a part space exploration! 


Mamta:  Finally.  The question I have been waiting for.  What is your favorite planet and why?  J


MZ [laughs]: Today it’s the moon!  Actually, my favorite planet is the one I am  working on at any given time.  Mars, Mercury, and even asteroids.  I love to go after some problem of how the planets got to be they way they are today, and how I can add more to the knowledge base of where we came from. It’s impossible to underscore the thrill of being able to do this for a living.

Welcome to Women@NASA's Blog

Welcome to the kickoff of the new Women@NASA blog!  And goodness me-we are quite excited to display the wonderful work across not only NASA but also the world because there are women everywhere who go unnoticed but are oh-so-admirable.  One of the goals of this blog is to highlight diverse women and their contributions to society in an informal manner so that our readers have capturing stories from which to learn, self-educate, and empower.  What is diverse?, you ask.  Gosh, I sure am glad you asked.  Let me expound.  Diverse, as used on this blog, means “from a gamut of professional fields, geographical locations, educational backgrounds, interests, hobbies, successes, failures, lessons learned, and all other characteristics thought of when exposed to a new person”.  Suffice it to say, if you have or know someone who has an interesting story-contact us.  We want to hear all about YOU! 

Another goal of our blog is for us to stalk the major (and not-so-major) media sites so you don’t miss the best stories!  We will post our favorites here so you are up to date with the latest news.  We plan to update the blog frequently so visit us often, follow us via the RSS feed, and pass the word to other great women like yourself (and men-who says everyone can’t celebrate good being done?).

As we obtain and increase our readership, we would like to open the blog up to members who would like to contribute stories themselves.  To let us know about your interest, you may either leave a comment on the blog or contact us here.

Coming Soon:  About Us-Learn about the women (and the man!) behind Women@NASA.  Stay tuned.


From Our Founder…

From Rebecca Keiser:


It is funny—I have written many blogs for my bosses, trying to replicate their styles so I can write in their voices, but I have never written a blog about myself!  It is wonderful to now be able to do so, because I am writing to tell you how excited I am by this new blog site and by our soon-to-be-expanded Women@NASA website.  I took on the responsibility of being NASA’s representative to the White House Council for Women and Girls about 18 months ago, and one of the first goals I had was to develop a way to highlight the incredible women we have here at NASA and their stories.  Luckily, Nick Skytland, our opengov guru, was there to make the vision into reality, and he did an fantastic job.  Mamta Patel is now taking on the role and she is already implementing great ideas like this new blog! 


I often get asked, “why highlight just women on a website?  By highlighting just women, aren’t you feeding the stereotype of women being different and making a problem where one does not exist?”  Well, if you look at the numbers, NASA is 34% female.  However, in scientific and technical areas, NASA drops to 21% female.  In professional and administrative fields, NASA is 62% female.  Only 26% of NASA executives, both in technical and non-technical areas, are women.  I could go on, but I believe that, number one, there is still a need to promote all types of diversity at NASA so that NASA reflects the richness of the United States as a whole.  That means diversity of gender, background, ethnicity, mindset, and everything else that Mamta mentioned in her blog.  Diversity of people promotes diversity of ideas and therefore greater innovation, and innovation is what NASA should be about.  So, I am so proud to highlight the women of NASA and their amazing diversity of backgrounds on our website, and I am so pleased that we are expanding the site to include even more women and their stories.


Please do think of posting a blog to this site with your thoughts.  We want to encourage innovation through your participation!

A True Story: A Teenager and Hate

I spent the better part of my spare time this past week thinking about what I wanted to write in my first real post (one that wasn’t about how this blog got started!).  You see-I love reading and writing and much of my free time is spent doing both activities.  The smell of books is one for which I yearn, forcing me back into a time when going to the library was not only commonplace but also invigorating.  Memories swirl in my head of being forced to put back books for having surpassed the check-out limit!  Nostalgia overcomes my senses as even I progress with the changing times and resort myself to an incredibly lazy morning of checking my online newspapers, blogs, social sites, and, of course, trusty ol’ Google. 

However, my own mourning of the written word aside, had it not been for such progression of the media, I would not have learned about this young woman, Emily-Anne Rigal.  And since I envisioned this blog to not only showcase women at NASA but also women around the world, I thought her story would be appropriate for this post.  This young girl is the epitomy of gumption.  Of the motivation and foresight on which even great leaders have not capitalized.   

Emily started the organization called WeStopHate, a group aspiring to improve teenage self-esteem that in turn may just deter bullying in schools.  At least, that is how I see it.  Improve the morale of kids and either the bullies themselves change or the others around the bullies stand up for themselves-all because they have confidence and a sense of self-worth.  Emily was teased as a young child for being overweight, leading her to change schools.  Thankfully, her confidence increased as she got older, and at the ripe age of seventeen, she’s innovating ways to replace hate with love.  One teen at a time.  In fact, she is being recognized for teen community service from Nickelodeon’s HALO (Helping and Leading Others) AwardsCongratulations, Emily.  And keep inspiring those of us who don’t even know you.   

Image Credits:  No Country for Young Women and Look to the Stars (Linked individually)

My True NASA Hero

This post is about fighting.  Believing.  Passion.  Success.  Standing up, arms flailing if need be. 

Dr. Harriett Jenkins worked for NASA from 1974 to 1992 in the Equal Opportunity Programs, paving the pathway that many of us have travelled thus far in our careers.  Because of Dr. Jenkins’ work, women, minorities, and disabled persons have a luxury of professional comfort not known during her own upbringing and career.  She also worked for the Senate as the director of the Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices, taking her beliefs even further through the government.

I had the pleasure of receiving the fellowship for which she is named (The Harriett Jenkins Pre-doctoral Fellowship) while I was pursuing my own doctorate in a STEM field.  During this time, I witnessed the quiet strength and invisible but surely able-to-be-woken feisty personality.  Dr. Jenkins could capture you with a simple smile and all ears were hers.  Others who worked with her during her tenure would tell stories of Dr. Jenkins, and they inevitably described her fervor and forward-thinking attitude.  Her ability to envision and convince.  To not only believe in something but also to see it through.

So as a woman at NASA, thank you, Dr. Jenkins.  As much as I like to believe that I am solely accountable for my successes of attaining this dream job, I must admit there are many others responsible for the opportunity, even if unbeknownst to me.  And I, for one, am thankful.

The Ultimate Woman

The ultimate woman. That’s the first phrase that came to mind when I decided to write about our Statue of Liberty.  After all, she represents the American dream for so many of our ancestries.  A dream to find a better life.  A dream to escape persecution.  A dream to dream.

On Friday, Our Lady Tis of Thee turned 125 years old, reminding us of the French tribute to American freedom.  For the numerous reasons behinds the gifting to us, she most definitely stands to represent the 12 million+ immigrants who fled the world between 1892 and 1954 hoping that such a perilous journey would come through for the sincere hopes of a better life.  A better future.  She reminds us of the millions more who came before them and after them all in search of the same.  Life. Liberty. And the pursuit of happiness.

Happy Birthday, Lady Liberty!