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Yes I Am a Rocket Scientist

Boeing Working With NASA

By Randy Dufault

July 29, 2016 - Women face many challenges in the world of work. But a panel of, smart, accomplished ladies shared that a satisfying career in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is possible and that barriers to success can be overcome.

Jackie Nesselroad, Boeing director of operations for space launch system (SLS) production company, moderated discussions from a panel consisting of Jenna Resnik, honor roll ninth grader and aspiring astronaut; Janet Kavandi, shuttle astronaut and center director of the NASA Glenn Research Center; Janica Cheney, director of test and research services for Orbital ATK’s propulsion systems division; Sarah Hiza, astronaut candidate applicant and program management director for propulsion, structures, ordnance and controls at Lockheed Martin; and Sheila Sharp, SLS integration team lead for the Boeing Company.

Each panelist shared how they developed a passion for some aspect of STEM at an early age, and how that passion, along with hard work, resulted in, or, in Resnik’s case, is leading to, a satisfying career.

Resnik, whose aunt was an astronaut who tragically perished in the Challenger disaster, is looking to carry on her aunt’s legacy. She is also an ambassador for the Challenger Center project. That program is an effort, started by the families of the seven astronauts who perished, to instruct children in the fifth through the eighth grades on STEM subjects through the lens of a space travel simulation. 

Kavandi, a Ph.D. chemist who visited both Mir and the International Space Station during her three trips to space, stressed that youth “have to want [a STEM career].” She also, in her position in management, looks for people—certainly women, but not only—who are team players that can work together to make the mission succeed.

Cheney, also holds a Ph.D. and is the mother of a four-year-old. She has been instrumental in changing the culture at Orbital ATK to be more family friendly and to better support the needs of professional women in the workforce. She also believes that growth in the number of women in the division of Orbital she works for has changed the way the company thinks about testing.

Hiza, another Ph.D. chemist who “loves propulsion” and hopes to go to space in the not too distant future, shared that she had to overcome several disappointments over the course of her career. She urges up-and-coming STEM professionals to work through the frustration of such events and press forward to the next thing. She also volunteers her time helping refugees develop STEM skills.

Sharp is a metallurgical engineer who credits her parents with developing her STEM interests. She manages a team of 250 in her role at Boeing and her ability has been challenged many times over her 20-year career. When that occurs she always tries to respond with knowledge, cordiality, and a team-building approach. She recently received a Boeing leadership award.

The panel wanted the audience to realize that the space industry is alive and well. They encouraged attendees to pursue careers in the industry and were clear that many positions are available—and many of those jobs do not require advanced degrees.

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