An Aerospace Engineer’s Top 8 Lessons for Women in Tech

There is something powerful in harnessing the strength that comes from surviving an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation. The key is to embrace those experiences and learn how to thrive in them. We are not defined by our experiences, but how we react to those experiences and the attitudes we choose to adopt. Transform tension into innovation, tackle challenge with an open mind, and take risks.

[ via The Next Women ]

STEMinist Profile: Natalie Panek, Mission Systems Engineer

Natalie Panek

Natalie Panek

Mission Systems Engineer

MDA Space Missions


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My career in STEM began with a dream to travel to space. I was always good at math and science, but loved the adventure involved with becoming an astronaut and was drawn to exploration. This was the deciding factor in pursuing mechanical and aerospace engineering degrees. I also love doing hands-on work and playing with hardware and technology, so engineering is a great fit!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I have had the opportunity to work on some amazing projects over the past few years. I’ve driven a solar-powered car across North America, got my pilot’s license, and skydived with Korea’s first Astronaut. I’ve interned at both NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center (working on reliability engineering) and NASA Ames Research Center (on a Mission to Mars!).

At my current job, I first started working as an Operations Engineer for the Next Generation Canadarm Project. The goal of this project was to build two new robotic arms to repair and service satellites that have broken components, or have run out of fuel. It is about being more conscious of what we are putting into space and thinking about sustainable exploration. Now I help support the robotics on the International Space Station.

I loved these projects because I was innovating for extreme environments and working with outgoing and dynamic peers. This type of environment gives you the confidence to want to change the world!

Role models and heroes:
My role models are the amazing women that I am able to interact with while pursuing a career in STEM; for example, my instructor when I got my pilot’s license, Athenia Jansen. She exuded confidence and passion, which I think carried her far in a male-dominated field. This is similar for Lt-Col. Maryse Carmichael, Commanding Officer of the Canadian Snowbirds.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I love working in STEM because it is an opportunity to seek out unfamiliar situations and really challenge myself or push my limits. A curiosity for science, engineering, and technology can cultivate innovation and facilitates life long learning. STEM is a gateway to exploration, which emphasizes the intricate balance between human progress and an entire universe waiting for discovery.

Advice for future STEMinists?
My advice for future women in STEM is to dive head-on into challenging careers. Do not be afraid of risk and take on leadership roles in order to revolutionize what women can accomplish in challenging fields that can influence the foundations of our generation and the next. Also learning teamwork skills, competence, toughness, discipline, responsibility and confidence can really help foster innovation and drive what is possible.

Favorite website or app:
One of my favorite websites is of big mountain skier Christina Lustenberger: http://christinalusti.com/

She has a passion for the mountains, outdoors, and exploration. She is pushing the limits of women’s ski mountaineering. And the pictures on her blog are gorgeous!

Twitter: @nmpanek
Site: thepanekroom.com

Women at NASA manage novel hurricane mission

The increasing presence of women in management of science missions at NASA is exemplified by Marilyn Vasques and Bernadette Luna, both members of the Earth Science Project Office at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and key participants in recent and on-going NASA airborne missions to study hurricanes.

[ via Phys.org ]

Barbie Mars-Bound? Mattel, NASA Team Up To Make Doll Martian Explorer

“Mars Explorer Barbie,” a new spacesuited version of the iconic fashion doll, officially launched on Monday (Aug. 5), to coincide with the first anniversary of NASA’s Curiosity rover landing on Mars. Mars Explorer Barbie is packaged with a cardboard cutout of the six-wheeled Mars Science Laboratory, decked out in pink.

[ via The Huffington Post ]

NASA needs more women, those honoring Sally Ride told

“I still see this picture around the Johnson Space Center, of the seven original astronauts standing around a fighter plane, and nothing in that picture makes it think it could be me.” – Cady Coleman, NASA Astronaut

[ via NBC News ]

STEMinist Profile: Chelsea Partridge, Engineering Student

Chelsea Partridge

Engineering student, former intern at NASA and at GE Transportation

University of North Florida



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I fell in love with the mysteries of the universe when I was young, and was very much a space geek. When I was in high school, I had a couple of really amazing teachers who inspired me in physics and chemistry, and I decided to pursue physics. Then I got the chance to intern at Kennedy Space Center in their Prototype Development Lab while in high school, and I fell in love with engineering. It was incredible! It sealed in my fate in STEM. I did a second internship in the same lab the following summer, then started engineering school.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
What a hard question to answer! A lot of the projects I worked on at the Prototype Development Lab were really cool. The coolest is a tie between modeling a pressure vessel, doing calculations, and writing an analysis report for a hypergol flange sealed that leaked and scrubbed the STS-133 Discovery space shuttle flight, and designing railgun projectiles for launching UAVs for Kennedy Space Center’s Applied Physics Lab.

Role models/heroes:
This is a bit of a list! My top five: Richard Feynman, Michio Kaku, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Suni Williams, and Coach A, my high school chemistry teacher.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working in STEM because it is so rewarding. I love feeling that I’m making a difference, and I love that I’m always learning. There is never a dull moment.

Advice for future STEMinists?
As many people before me have said, follow your dreams and don’t let anyone, including yourself, get in your way. Even if you aren’t a natural in your math or science classes, keep working hard and don’t lose focus. Perseverance is noticed and will take you a long way. Seek out and mentor and join clubs/societies. Mentors can be a fellow student, a teacher, professor, or a professional, but they are extremely beneficial. Societies such as SWE (Society of Women Engineers) are also great for networking and finding potential mentors.

Favorite website/app:
My favorite website is Netflix! I can access Doctor Who wherever I go.

Website: thequantumview.blogspot.com
Twitter: @Queen_Of_Quarks

STEMinist Profile: Stephanie Stockman, Education & Public Outreach Lead, NASA

Stephanie Stockman

Stephanie Stockman

Education and Public Outreach Lead
NASA Science Mission Directorate
(NASA HQ)



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
From the time I was a small child I loved rocks. I have my first exposure to geology as a 4th grader and knew that I wanted to be a geologist. I changed my major in college from Mass Communication to Geology in my junior year of college. It was during the time that plate tectonics was coming to the forefront of geologic research. I loved the idea of “smash-bang crash-em up continents.”

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I worked in the Lab for Terrestrial Physics at Goddard Space Flight Center. One of our geophysicists had a project on Kodiak Island and other parts of Alaska. She was using high precision GPS to look at strain across fault zones. For the Kodiak part of the campaign she partnered with the local high school. She asked me to add an education component to the field campaign. In the meantime, she became pregnant and had to go on bed rest. I went up to Kodiak and ran the second week of the field campaign with the students. The following year I went back and recruited other schools in Glen Allen, Kenny Lake and Valdez and participated in those trainings and campaigns as well.

Role models/heroes:
Lorie Molitor, my undergraduate advisor at Towson State University. I shied away from science because I was math-phobic and she convinced me that I could do the math—and she was right.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love learning new things, I am fascinated by the discoveries we make at NASA via our robotic flight programs. One of my first jobs at Goddard was mapping Viking imagery of Mars. My “field area” was near the large Martian out-flow channels. At that time, most planetary scientists did not think liquid water could have flowed on Mars. It was a great time to observe and participate in the scientific debate.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be afraid to follow your interests and passion…to a career that you truly enjoy. Seek out mentors who can help guide you in your career. Pass it on, and look for opportunities to mentor others.

Favorite website or app:
Titus Canyon (I love flickr and taking pictures of rocks) and nasascience.nasa.gov

Twitter: @geosteph

STEMinist Profile: Carolyn Bacqué-Carson, Aerospace Engineer/Quality Engineer

Carolyn Bacqué-Carson

Carolyn Bacqué-Carson

Aerospace Engineer/Quality Engineer in Propulsion for the Launch Services Division: Safety/Quality Engineering & Assurance Branch



Organization: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), FL (The comments and opinions expressed are my own and do not represent the views of NASA)

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
When I was in elementary school I wanted to be as astronaut, seismologist, volcanologist or a geologist, but I had a real passion for space travel and wanted to work for NASA. While in high school I did some research on what kinds of degrees astronauts had and most of them were some type of engineer or pilot. That’s when I decided I wanted to be an engineer and starting looking into universities. Overall it was just a general passion for science from a young age.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest projects I’ve worked on are launching the Space Shuttles and Ares I-X. Starting out at United Space Alliance (USA) and then moving to NASA in the hypergolic fluids groups I was very fortunate to work in the Launch Control Center (LCC) almost daily to maintain the system and also troubleshooting problems. Once I had gained enough knowledge and was certified in the system I got to sit in the LCC for pre-launch and then launch activities.

Then when Ares I-X came around I was selected to help refine the launch commit criteria, help build the software screens, refine the requirements, write the test requirements, work in a badge less environment and I sat on console during launch as the prime hypergolic/hydraulic power unit (HPU) system engineer. The coolest part was being able to crawl around in the AFT, Forward and mid body of the Orbiters, do testing in the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF), Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and launch Pads. I got to work with the hardware every day and interact with multiple different groups and systems. It was challenging and long hours at times but it really was a rewarding job that I miss today.

Role models and heroes:
My Mom, Kathie, is my role model. She showed me from a young age that women can have a great job and a family too. She is a nurse and worked long hours when my sister and I were younger but she always made time for us and made sure she was there for us. When I told her what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do she just supported me in my decisions and made sure that I got every opportunity to make those dreams happen. I am also part of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and there are so many amazing women in the organization that I look up to and aspire to be like in the future.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Science, technology, engineering and math can be challenging at times but working towards a goal, sticking with it and then making it happen is truly the most rewarding experience. There were times I thought I couldn’t make it through engineering school but I got help from my professors, friends and tutors to make sure I did the best I could do. Love what you do and have a passion for it, if you have that then you can make it through the perplexing times.

Try to find projects, clubs, and organizations to be part of. Having something to belong to and building your network can really make a difference when it comes to getting an internship, co-op, or job. Also, make sure you have a good support system either through family, friends or organizations; they can really make a difference in your life.

Favorite website or app:
SpaceflightNow
Angry Birds Space
Kennedy Space Center Media Archive
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Society of Women Engineers
Astronomy Picture of the Day

Twitter: @AstronautWoman

STEMinist Profile: Holly Griffith, Flight Controller/Engineer

Holly Griffith

Holly Griffith

Flight Controller / Engineer
Johnson Space Center

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
As a kid I loved shows like Star Wars and Star Trek. This got me interested in space in general, which led to me wanting to work at NASA. My interest stayed with me all through high school, and when it came time to pick a major in college, I decided that engineering would be the best one for me to be able to get there.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There have been so many! If I had to pick one, I would say working towards my ascent/entry certification. We do sims (simulations) to get us flight controllers prepared to sit console. The sims ready us for just about any situation you can think of, nominal and off-nominal. The ascent/entry sims would last 4 hours and you would have about 5 ascent or entry sims in that time. They were always so exciting, to get to “work” 5 Shuttle ascents in a row!

It was so faced paced and things happened so quick that you always had to be ready for anything. The group dynamic was great, too, since everybody had to be on their toes and help each other out by giving their inputs to failures even if they were in someone else’s system. It really showed you the importance of teamwork in this job.

Role models and heroes:
My parents – they always told me I could do whatever I wanted and supported me 100%. Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson for being such great science communicators. Princess Leia – I know she’s not real but she’s always been one of my heroes and was the first person to get me interested in science and space.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Do what you love. Don’t let the lack of women in a certain field deter you; doing it anyway is the only way to change that.

Favorite website or app:
Just one?? :) Websites: I spend a lot of time on Reddit, I like the “Today I learned” and “Ask me anything” subreddits. I also spend a lot of time on Amazon since I love to read. Apps: Instacast for my podcasts, Osfoora for Twitter, and Kindle. Of course, Facebook.

Twitter: @absolutspacegrl, @smartgirlsrock

STEMinist Profile: Ann Martin, Postdoctoral Fellow, NASA Langley Research Center

Ann Martin

Ann Martin

Postdoctoral Fellow & Program Evaluator on the NASA Innovations in Climate Education



Organization: NASA Langley Research Center

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
When I was a little kid, I loved everything about space that I could get my hands on. My parents were both really interested in the history of the manned spaceflight program, so I grew up watching shuttle launches on TV, taking family trips to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, and memorizing the names of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts. I even went to SpaceCamp . . . twice. I loved science and math, but I also loved my English classes where written and oral communication was important.

Ultimately, I majored in both English and physics when I was in college. Now I have a PhD in astronomy from Cornell, but a career in science research isn’t for me. Instead, I’m interested in working on science education and public outreach/communication, and especially in increasing the diversity in astronomy and other STEM fields. That brings both of my skill sets, thinking like both a scientist and a communicator, to the table.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
During my dissertation work, I was part of a large research collaboration, called ALFALFA, led by my advisors at Cornell and involving over 30 other institutions. We used the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico to take a census of nearby galaxies, studying their reservoirs of hydrogen gas, which is the basic ingredient that galaxies use to cook up new generations of stars.

As part of this work, I ran the world’s largest telescope for many nights, trained other students and faculty members to use it, traveled to the telescope in Puerto Rico and to others in California, discovered and published information about unknown galaxies, and wrote my dissertation on the properties of our sample of over 10,000 galaxies – it was an amazing experience!

Now that I have worked in astronomical research for so long, it’s can be too easy to forget that thrill of discovery. But sometimes on a clear night, the night sky (especially a good naked-eye view of the Andromeda galaxy) will take my breath away. In those moments, it hits me that I’ve been so lucky to be able to call myself an astronomer. I still can’t believe I’ve been a discoverer of galaxies!

Role models and heroes:
In grad school, I shared an office with another grad student working on ALFALFA, Sabrina Stierwalt. Sabrina has taught me so much about science, but even more about being true to myself while working on a career in science. For us, that means finding a satisfactory balance between our work and our personal lives, working to improve our communities, and not being shy about the “feminist” part of being a STEMinist!

Sabrina helped me get involved with a lot of the astronomy education projects, like the Ask an Astronomer service at Cornell, that ultimately pointed me toward the career I’m now pursuing. It is really helpful to have such a good friend, colleague, and role model who reflects my aspirations and pushes me to think about my place in the world.

Starting many months ago, Sabrina and some of our other STEMinist friends began to notice that the “Doodles” appearing on the Google homepage from time to time had a disturbing pattern – we were seeing far, far too few women represented! With Sabrina’s advice and encouragement, I started a blog called Speaking Up For Us and posted an open letter to the Google Doodles team. We all know that role models are very important for women in STEM, and the Google Doodles could be such a great platform for sharing the contributions of women with everyone who doesn’t have a Sabrina in her or his life.

Advice for future STEMinists?
A support network is such a critical thing, whether that means your friends, your family, your advisors at school, all of the above, or some other (formal or informal) mentor. Seek out this support wherever you can find it, and learn about ideas like impostor syndrome so that they can’t slow you down. If you’re a student, MentorNet.org is a great place to start. Research and personal experience has shown that this support helps young women — and members of other groups underrepresented in STEM — stick with it and pursue their dreams.

Another, more personal piece of advice: There are so many interesting, twisting and turning paths to fulfilling careers in STEM. It took me a long time to find my own path, and in the end I realized that I couldn’t push parts of my personality aside to try to force myself to stay on a path that wasn’t working for me. Incidentally, it also turns out that those other skills and priorities have a lot of value in the STEM world. We all have something to bring to the table, and it’s OK if your path turns out to be a little twisty like mine was.

Favorite website or app:
I couldn’t do my work without Google Reader, an RSS feed aggregator that lets me do one-stop shopping for updates on my favorite blogs. It helps me keep up with everything from scholarly journals to the latest STEM education news to my friends’ blogs.

Twitter: @Annie314159
Site: Speaking Up for Us