STEMinist Profile: Natalie Panek, Mission Systems Engineer

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:

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

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