NASA DEVELOP: Ande Ehlen

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Today let us introduce you to Ande Ehlen from NASA Langley Research Center. Ande is the Center Lead for the DEVELOP Program’s Great Lakes location. NASA’S DEVELOP Program is a student-led research internship that focuses on using NASA Earth observations to address community concerns and public policy issues.

Ande Ehlen, NASA DEVELOP Great Lakes Center Lead

What inspired you to apply for DEVELOP?
My love for science started as a little girl growing up in Florida. I was always surrounded by new adventures, from tree climbing to exploring tide pools. I pursued my interests in science through my academic career and was lucky enough to stumble across the DEVELOP Program my senior year of college. I was drawn to the scientific and professional experience I would gain through an internship while still being able to attend school. The opportunities offered by the DEVELOP Program seemed endless, and have continued to prove so.

What interests you most about Earth science?
When I was little, my family always took camping and canoeing trips. We traveled a lot, and something about the environment has always sparked something within me. I’ve always been really interested in marine science, ecological relationships, environmental conservation, and field research. I followed my interests and even obtained my Advanced Certification for scuba diving! Earth science is a great field to study. There’s always something to learn or research in order to continue proving and finding solutions for complex environmental issues. Plus, we’ve got to take care of what’s close to us here at home!

What role does NASA play in your life/career?
My experience with NASA has shown me that working here is full of all kinds of opportunity. It’s about learning, growing, and networking. I’ve gained substantial skills in research analysis, GIS, remote sensing, and NASA’s capabilities. I’ve grown in my leadership skills, professional development, and working both individually and as a member of a team. I’ve also learned about myself and my capabilities. Lastly, the people I’ve made connections with through my experience with NASA are immense. Interacting with environmental groups, some of the world’s top scientists, and various policy makers has opened up many doors for my future.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
With this question, several things come to mind. I could list many things I’ve overcome in life that I am proud of, such as moving around a lot or achieving a degree in a challenging field. However, all I can think is that at 22 years old, I’ve really only begun to achieve greatness. I’m on the right track – my greatest accomplishment (so far) is simply having the ability to work toward writing my life’s legacy. I’ve only written the prologue, and there’s a lifetime of great accomplishments ahead. But so far, it’s everything I’ve done that’s helped me to arrive at this very moment. I couldn’t be more proud of myself for where I am today. Ande at the top of Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park!

Can you describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision and what you learned as a consequence?
One of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make was when my mother moved to Indiana the summer before my senior year of college. My older brother and sister already lived in Indiana, along with my nieces and nephew. It was difficult enough knowing how little I got to see them and now with my mother moving too, I felt very alone. I was torn between moving to Indiana after graduation, or staying in Virginia and seeing where that path may take me. Staying here in Virginia was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make, but also one of the best. I’ve discovered a lot about myself and my capabilities. I’ve also learned about independence, and that distance is just a number. Family is always within reach.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?
There’s one person who always encourages me through my academia, goals, work, and dreams. My mother has taught me what unconditional love is, to always be true to my abilities, and that no struggle is too large to overcome. She’s opened my eyes up to seeing that there is always someone to support you, and things could be so much worse. Through my mom’s aspirations and leading by example, I’ve learned to always accept new challenges and live fearlessly. You never know where you may end up.

How has your career surprised you or given you unexpected opportunities?
I’ve really gained a grasp of the capabilities of NASA Earth Observing Systems in studying environmental issues, from something as large as a hurricane to as small as one lake with water quality issues. I never thought I’d be studying so many various issues by using satellite data, and then be able to teach the methodology to end users who can benefit from it. However, I truly never expected to present my project and methodology to 35+ mayors and policy makers from around the Great Lakes this past June. I was the youngest person at the conference, and it was in Quebec, Canada! I was very nervous, but it was such a unique and rewarding opportunity and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

What does your future hold?
The future is always a mystery. I’m never afraid to explore new paths and take on new challenges. Ultimately however, I’d like to secure a challenging position with an environmental sciences focus and be helping with conservation or working to study environmental issues. I’d also like to return to school to receive my M. S. in a related field.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to those who read your story?
Ask questions. Spend time outside. Travel every chance you can. Explore your interests, no matter how little talent you may have in them. Work hard… you’ve got nothing to lose. Learn everything you can about yourself. Make sure those you care about most know how much they mean to you. Always expect the unexpected – anything can (and will) happen! And finally… enjoy science!

NASA DEVELOP: Amber Kuss

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Today let us introduce you to Amber Kuss from NASA Ames Research Center. Amber is the Center Lead for the DEVELOP Program’s Ames location. NASA’s DEVELOP Program is a student-led research internship that focuses on utilizing NASA Earth observations to address community concerns and public policy issues.

Amber Kuss, Ames Research Center DEVELOP Center Lead Image credit: Carl Bean-Larson
Image Credit: Carl Bean-Larson

What inspired you to apply for DEVELOP?
While I was working on my master’s degree at SanFrancisco State University, I became engaged in GIS and remote sensing throughcoursework, however it was a fellow classmate who inspired me to apply forDEVELOP. Michelle Newcomer, a previous DEVELOP Center Lead, gave apresentation during our Hydrogeology class about projects she had been workingon using remote sensing for wetland restoration. Her excitement and professionalism impressedme, and I was drawn to the idea of being able to conduct hands-on research. 

What interests you most about Earth science?
Our personal connections to nature and the rolehumans play in natural resource management interests me the most about Earth science. As an undergraduate student, Ihad the opportunity to participate in an intensive field work course in thesouthwestern U.S. This course allowed me to primarily focus on field work andexploration, and this really sparked a continuing passion for Earth science. As a current researcher, I amfascinated by the influence of technology and engineering in Earth science, andhow we can study geological and ecological phenomena from hundreds of milesaway. I think that with this emergenttechnology, the progression of Earth science will increase dramatically.

What role does NASA play in your life/career?
Thegreatest role of NASA in my life and certainly my career are the people I havethe opportunity to work with. Coming towork every day and being surrounded by some of the most intelligent people onthe planet challenges you to think intellectually and allows you to be creativeand unrestricted in your research ideas.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
As a young adult, I would have said my greatestaccomplishment was winning the state golf championship when I was 16. However, as my career in science isprogressing, my most current accomplishment is the completion of my master’sdegree. When I submitted my monstrousthesis into the printing office, I felt pretty great!

Can you describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision and what you learned as a consequence? 
One of the greatest decisions of my life and career was the decision to go back to school for my master’s degree. After I obtained a B.S. in Geoscience fromthe College of Charleston, I began working for an Environmental Consulting firmas a Staff Geologist. At first, the jobwas ideal; I was making more money than I ever had before, I had free time toenjoy the city and the beach, and I was working in my chosen field. However, after about six months, I began towonder if I was not challenging myself enough intellectually. I then began toapply for master’s programs all over the country, and decided on a few inCalifornia. While it was difficult todecide on the right place to attend, one of the largest obstacles was movingacross the country to a place where I had never spent much time, and where Iknew no one. While this was daunting, Igathered up my courage, and made the leap. What I gained surpassed my expectations, and I began to think aboutacademia and science as a career. Ilearned that the greatest challenges in life can sometimes be the mostrewarding, and I will now always be open to turning my life upside down for thebenefits that come with change.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you? 
My father is quite a character; his long hair, loudmouth, and uncompromising attitude towards just about anything in life may leadpeople to think he is a wild guy. Whilethis may be true, my father has influenced my life in so many ways frominstilling the ideals of hard work, to a focus on the environment and how weinteract with it, and for his never-ending skepticism. As a past employee for the Indiana Departmentof Environmental Management, he worked for over 20 years to face tough issuesof water contamination and pollution from large industrial facilities, such asthe steel mills along Lake Michigan. Healways displayed a passion for his work and taught me a great deal about thedifficulties of environmental regulation. He has also taught me to face challengesin life head on, and to be open to new opportunities, like when he left a jobhe held for over 20 years to become the manager of the sanitation district forMichigan City, Indiana. He has shown me that I don’t have to compromise mybeliefs and plans for the future and that with hard work we can help to improveour life and others.

How has your career surprised you or given you unexpected opportunities? 
My career with NASA has really pushed me to pursuemy academic journey. I began in theDEVELOP Program while in my master’s program at San Francisco StateUniversity. When I first began, I thoughtI would just obtain my master’s and move into a career. However, being able towork on real-world research and working with other students sparked my interestin pursuing academia and becoming a professor. I am now a PhD student at theUniversity of California, Santa Cruz in the Environmental Studies Department. Additionally, my work with our partneragencies has opened me up in new ways to the idea of scientific communicationand I am passionate about working as a bridge to ensure that scientificresearch will be beneficial to the community. In order for science to bedirectly useful to our society, we must be able to speak with people of alldifferent backgrounds and take our heads out of the “researchers’ realm” tomake our science useful.

What does your future hold? 
I am hopeful that at some point in the future I willbe able to get that elusive “Dr.” in front of my name, but more importantly, Ihope to work as a teacher to the next generation of scientists. It is my goalto work either at a university or in a government career that allows me toconnect researchers and students back to their community.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to those who read your story? 
I would advise young professionals and students totake risks and be open to major changes in your life. Don’t be afraid tototally change your outlook, career path, or research plans. These changesallow us to think outside the box, and be connected with new experience thatwill help expand our intellectual thinking. Oh yeah, and have some fun!

Earth Science Week: Hurricanes and Motivation

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In continuing our celebration of Earth science week, we would like to introduce you to Michelle Gierach, a project scientist for the Physical Oceanography Distributed Data Archive Center (PO.DAAC) and ocean scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).  We hope you enjoy her interview and maybe find your own passion along the way! To read more stories and learn more about Earth science week at NASA, visit http://women.nasa.gov/earthexplorers.

 

 

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?

I work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). I was a slew of emotions on my first day, being thrilled and anxious at the same time. I was honored to have been given a position at JPL since they and NASA are known world-wide for their scientific endeavors; however, at the same time I was worried that my scientific interests and research would not stack up to their level of excellence. This latter sentiment has since faded and has been replaced by a sense to succeed as a representative of NASA and JPL.

 

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?

I grew up in Florida and witnessed first hand the destruction caused by hurricanes. My grandmother went through Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when it made landfall in Homestead, Florida as a category 5 hurricane. Seeing the destruction caused by the natural phenomenon intrigued me. How it is possible that a natural event can propel 2×4’s through a palm tree? From that point I knew I wanted to be an earth scientist.

 

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I get to explore the earth system and my own curiosity through satellites. Satellites provide us with a global view of what is happening in our earth system at present and gives us an indication on how the system has changed over time. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is the education and outreach component, wherein I get to communicate science results from satellites to the public. It is our responsibility as scientists to convey what we have learned, how it is relevant to society, and why it is important to continue the satellite record.

 

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

To not doubt your abilities and rise to the challenge when presented with opportunities that offer a chance to learn something new. To be true to yourself and your scientific beliefs.

 

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

One of the biggest challengers I have faced is public disbelief in science results from the satellite record. Satellites provide a global view of the earth system and we have been fortunate to have long-term monitoring through continuation of the satellite record. Skepticism of satellite results is upsetting, but makes me steadfast in my scientific convictions and further emphasizes the necessity to communicate with the public.

 

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

There is no one person that influenced my life, more so it has been an accumulation of people throughout my life from my family, grade school teachers, college professors, and work colleagues. Along the way each has taught me to be true to my abilities and myself and not cower to new challenges and opportunities.

 

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

I do not feel I have had to overcome gender barriers as my career has developed. Though that is not to say that they do not exist. The science profession has primarily been a male-dominated field; however, amazing women have been paving the way for female junior scientists like myself. We now have programs that encourage and mentor young women in science to increase retention, such as MPOWIR (Mentoring Physical Oceanography Women to Increase Retention). Progress is being made, but we still have a ways to go.

 

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

Never stop asking questions and exploring your own curiosity.

 

Female Geoscientists Day

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Today is female geoscientists day and in celebration, we would you to meet Lola Fatoyinbo from NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center.  We hope you enjoy the last of the Earth science week stories we have for you and take away a nugget of inspiration.  Let’s celebrate the beauty of our planet and the scientists who are finding ways to ensure the future can enjoy her beauty as have! To read more stories and learn more about Earth science week at NASA, visit http://women.nasa.gov/earthexplorers.

 

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?

I work at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and I have been here for almost 3 years. On my first day, I was nervous and hoped that I would be up to the tasks that I would have to do. I remember sitting in a meeting and being impressed by how smart and knowledgeable the people around me were.

 

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?

I lived in Benin and Ivory Coast in West Africa as a teenager where deforestation and pollution are rampant and mostly uncontrolled.  I always found it heartbreaking to watch such beautiful places being destroyed. I was also very aware that this also directly affected all of us living there, but the largest effect was on the poor population who were drinking polluted water for instance.

 

My parents also fueled my passion for exploration. They were avid travelers and even drove from Nigeria to Germany in a Volkswagen bus! We often did road trips through various West African Countries, and they would tell me how important it was to preserve our environment. Seeing so many different places also made me appreciate them.

 

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I love travelling to new places, whether in person or by looking at an image taken by a satellite. I can spend hours ‘exploring’ on Google earth! But I think what I enjoy the most about my job is coming up with new research projects for myself or for our student interns. There are so many questions to be answered and projects to develop and that’s what really gets me excited.

 

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

Don’t always choose the easiest path. I always loved science, yet I did much better in languages and social studies in school. But I wanted to become a scientist and worked really hard to make it happen.

 

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

The most difficult moment for me was when I was doing fieldwork in a very remote tropical forest in Madagascar. Here I was, doing what I had always dreamed on- exploring the rainforest, and it was nowhere near as glamorous as I had always thought of it. We were working long days, hiking 10 km everyday. It was cold, rainy, there were leeches inching up my pants, I kept falling on the trails, I was hungry and exhausted and missed my friends and family. I felt really bad for myself, then I remembered that I had wanted to have this opportunity since I was a little kid! In the end it was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I learned that you shouldn’t give up just because what you’re working on isn’t the way you imagined it would be.

 

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

The biggest influence in my childhood and early adulthood was my parents. They always encouraged me to be a lifelong learner and not feel like I should have to fit into a particular box. My dad taught me make a career out of your hobby and my mother was and still is my biggest cheerleader. She is always encouraging and does everything to help me get my work done. She’s even come on work trips with me to babysit my kids!

 

Throughout college and my professional life, my husband has been my greatest influence. He is the hardest working person I know so I have to keep up with him!

 

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

As an African American woman, one is bound to encounter some sort of barrier or hurdle in a career. I chose not to pay them too much attention and just work as hard as I could and look forward. That being said, I know that the only reason I can do this is because many before me had to fight very hard for equality in the workplace. Nobody ever asked me to bring them coffee just because I was a woman, and I am very grateful to those who fought before me.

 

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

Hard work is worth more than talent! Like I said, I was always much better at languages than science. But I wanted to have a career as a scientist so I stuck to it! But you don’t have to settle and in ways can “have it all”.  I am proof as I now I speak 5 languages!

Celebrate Earth Science Week

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This week is Earth Science week!  At NASA, we have a great group of scientists who strive to understand our planet, research ways to make it stay beautiful, and moreover, ensure it remains that way for generations to come.  To celebrate, we have interviewed three people who vary in background.  Their expertises range from performing the science to deveoping ways to share science with the next generation.  We will post each story during the week to learn more about what Earth scientists do and share in their passion and curiosity.  Today, let us introduce to you Sarah Crecelius from NASA Langley Research Center.  We hope you enjoy the interviews and are intrigued by their stories.  One never knows when the spark happens! Read more stories and learn more about the celebration at http://women.nasa.gov/earthexplorers.

 

 

Where do you work, and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?

I am an Outreach Coordinator for the Student Cloud Observations On-Line (S’COOL) and MY NASA DATA (MND) Projects in the Science Directorate at NASA Langley Research Center.  I recall that on my first day I was proud, excited, and nervous.

 

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?

I grew up camping and taking yearly trips to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. I have always loved being outdoors and learning how nature and weather work, but I really discovered that I was passionate for Earth Science when I saw a tornado on the weather channel.  From that moment, on I wanted to understand how weather and Earth systems worked together to form such a colossal and powerful force.  My passion continued to grow in college as I majored in atmospheric science and minored in natural resource management. I realized that understanding the Earth and her systems can help us/mankind understand best management practices and inspire further research of our planet.   

 

What inspired you to work in this field?

I have had many inspirations that have guided me down the path that I am on today, but the first was in elementary school.  I attended a math and science magnet school that provided a Battel Scientist once a week to help the class with a science experiment.  Dr. Phil Sticksel inspired each one of his students to always look for the next question.  I learned science because I was the one doing it. In high school, I always liked the algorithms and equations of math, but science (physics and chemistry especially) helped me apply real world applications and understand the algorithm or equation. It was in college that I realized being a woman in the science field was a unique position.  It was a great opportunity and experience.  Professors and colleagues fostered an atmosphere of respect and learning that expanded my horizons and understanding of real life science. I was proud to gradate as one of four women in my atmospheric science program.

 

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

Some of the most important lessons I have learned are very cliché, but I can testify that they exists for a reason:

·         Everything isn’t always what you expect.

·         Be prepared for whatever comes your way.

·         Work well with others, stay open minded, and listen.

·         People have as much right to their opinion as you do.

·         Network! Find a champion (someone who also wants to see you do well and succeed).

·        Find a role model (it’s easy to reflect on others’ good acts for examples when you have trouble with your own).

·         Work your hardest, and you can leave knowing you gave all you had.  

These are the usual motivational sparks.  If you can remember them during the day, you’ll have a pretty good guide to success and happiness.

 

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

While still early in my career, I have had difficult moments.  Learning to work with a team of non-like-minded people and follow processes that have been in place for years was a struggle in the beginning.  I have learned that different views and processes provide experience and wisdom and if it’s worth changing something, my argument/ideas need to be stable and unbiased. Another difficulty I face as a young professional is doubting my ability (compared to those around me).  I have learned that everyone has off days and that if I trust in my abilities and knowledge, I am well suited for the work I do.

 

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

My parents, my mother, and Dr. Sticksel have made the biggest influence on my life.  Each one in his/her own way has always taught me to try my hardest, never stop asking questions, and by-pass the road blocks. My parents have always motivated me to strive for my best while supporting me. My mother is a perfect example of a successful woman, wife, and mother. Dr. Sticksel sparked the fire that has turned into a love for science.  His passion for the science has shown me that if you love what you are doing, the reward is endless.

 

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

Find a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career that works for you.  It doesn’t have to be literally these things, but find your passion and see what’s available.  It can be easy to see science in the world around us (photosynthesis, weather, climate, plants, animals), but to experience science is to understand/want to understand the world around you. 

Women in History Shout Out

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Women will change the corporation more than we expect. – Anita Borg

Anita Borg (1949 – 2003) was an American computer scientist who received her doctorate in 1981 from New York University.  She received her first computer programming job in 1969, though she never intended to work in such a field.  She loved math while a student in school and taught herself to program while working at a small insurance company.  Beyond her career, Dr. Borg believed in creating a greater technical representation for women in technology.  She founded the Institute for Women and Technology and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.   Dr. Borg was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1999 and passed away on April 6, 2003 as a result.  The Institute for Women and Technology was renamed to the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and Google created a scholarship in her honor.

The First Female IBM CEO

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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

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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

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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

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“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.

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