(Florida Institute of Technology)
The NASA Mission Control Officer | 30 Under 30 Class of 2019
"I am motivated by all of the little girls I want to encourage to pursue careers in STEM."
Where did you grow up?
Who is your role model?
Amelia Earheart, Sally Ride and my parents.
Where do you live now?
What is your theme song?
Life is a Highway by Rascal Flatts.
Why do you love what you do?
I love what I do because I feel like I am making a real difference in the world. Space exploration is such a huge part of mankind's future, and I am honored and privileged to be a part of such a massive endeavor as human space exploration. NASA is an amazing community of people who come from all walks of life, everyone dedicated to making large strides in innovative technology and making the future a better place. We are all inspired by each other and that is an amazing feeling.
How did you discover your passion for your job?
I first discovered my passion for space when I was a very small child watching space shuttle launches on TV and going to Space Center Houston as often as I could. I always knew I wanted to work at NASA and specifically in Houston where I grew up. My passion grew when I excelled in math and science classes in high school, and then went on to study aerospace engineering in college where I was able to watch space shuttle launches from right outside my dorm room. When I got my job at Johnson Space Center, I was in utter shock that I had finally achieved the goal I had for 20 years and worked so hard to achieve. I wouldn't be where I am today without my amazingly supportive parents who pushed me so hard because they knew I had that passion within me to work at NASA.
How do you define success?
I define success as being able to have a stable work-life balance while not allowing either one to overcome the other and achieving goals in both areas. Anyone who knows me knows I am big on family, and my passion for my family is just as great as my passion for my work. I have a beautiful daughter who is two years old, and since the day she was born I vowed to do whatever I needed to do to never miss events in her life while also continuing to advance my career. I feel I am very successful because I coordinate my schedule, so I never miss an important meeting at work or a shift in Mission Control while also never missing an event at her daycare or skipping birthday parties and play dates. Our lives are very busy, but they're also very full of fun and love.
What motivates you?
The excitement of the future of human spaceflight is definitely a motivation, as well as making the world a better place for my daughter and other future generations. I am motivated by all of the little girls I want to encourage to pursue careers in STEM. I look forward to the day my daughter is able to say proudly to her class at school, "My mommy is an engineer at NASA and trains astronauts that fly in space." I want my daughter, and every little girl with a dream, to know that no matter how large your dream is, it is always possible to achieve it. I am proof of that! I've had my obstacles, being a woman in a professional field dominated by men. But no obstacle is too great for a passionate woman with a dream to achieve.
What is your official title at NASA?
Visiting Vehicles Officer
Can you explain to me exactly what you do in your role?
I work at NASA Johnson Space Center, where mission control is. If you watch any NASA movies and all the people at the desk who help out, that’s where I work. I coordinate rendezvous and departure of any visiting vehicles that go to the International Space Station.
Stephanie grew up watching space shuttle launches on TV and visiting Space Center Houston as often as she could. She always knew she wanted to work at NASA, and now she does. As a visiting vehicles officer, Stephanie coordinates rendezvous and departures of any visiting vehicles that go to the International Space Station. If you’ve seen a NASA movie, you’re familiar with Mission Control and the people at the big desk on Earth sharing information with those in space – that’s what Stephanie does.
Stephanie is also a certified flight controller and part of a mentorship program at NASA. Students come in and NASA employees guide them through a project. Stephanie often tries to pick groups with multiple women. “I just want to show a presence as female in NASA,” she explained. “Just showing that women can advance and be high up here is important.”
While Stephanie’s parents were incredibly supportive of her desire to work for NASA and study aerospace engineering, not everyone she encountered was as encouraging. In college she said it was difficult being one of the only females in the aerospace program. Many of the men in her program were dismissive of her abilities. The professors shot down that behavior when they saw it, but Stephanie often stood up for herself.
At one point during her senior design project, the male team captain handed her a broom and told her to clean up the machine shop while the men worked. Stephanie refused to be humiliated and ended up being one of the highest contributing members of her team and pushed them to compete at a national competition where they won third place.
Now, Stephanie is thriving at NASA and working hard to help women rise with her and show that it is possible for a woman to work at NASA. She’s also trying to be a positive role model to her two-year-old daughter and immerse her in STEM.
Her daughter is in the NASA day care, which is very STEM focused and even at her age, she’s working on science projects. “I don’t want to force it on her,” Stephanie explained, “I just want her to know that she has options and she’s encouraged to pursue that if she wants. I want my daughter, and every little girl with a dream, to know that no matter how large your dream is, it is always possible to achieve it. I am proof of that! I've had my obstacles being a woman in a professional field dominated by men. But no obstacle is too great for a passionate woman with a dream to achieve.”
Early Bird or Night Owl
Hours a Week
Facebook or Instagram
Podcasts or Audiobooks
Left Brain or Right Brain
I saw that you are a certified flight controller in mission control. How did you go about doing this and why?
It's a two to four year process and it's a support background position. I’m assigned to certain vehicle missions as support. In a couple years, I’ll get certified to be the person in front.
You mentioned in your earlier responses that your parents were incredibly supportive of you. So did they encourage you to pursue STEM when they realized you had an interest? Did you ever have people who discouraged you from doing so?
They realized pretty early on. I grew up around Space Center Houston and my parents had an interest in NASA as well. They pushed me to do all the advanced courses in high school and encouraged me to go to a university with a good aerospace program. There were only a few females in aerospace, which was difficult. It got pretty demeaning at some points. Professors were really encouraging and shot that down a lot.
In your application, you mentioned that you inspire other women to rise to the top with you. How have you gone about doing that?
I want to be a mentor to women. We have a mentorship program at NASA where they come and we guide them through a project, so I try to pick groups with multiple women. I just want to show a presence as a female in NASA. Just showing that women can advance and be high up here is important.
Can you tell me more about your work with SWAN (Supporting Women at NASA)?
I haven't done a lot yet, but it's about outreach and helping women within NASA. We want to show it’s possible to be a woman at NASA.
You mentioned a lot in your application that you’ve had to overcome obstacles because of your gender in this field. Can you expand on what sorts of things have happened and how you never let that prevent you from continuing in this male-dominated field?
People attempted to hold my hand through a lot of this, so I had to break through and show them I could be independent and work on my own. It’s all about showing determination and independence.
How are you immersing your daughter in STEM?
She’s actually in the day care here in NASA. Having her in that program, they are very STEM focused. Even at her age, they do science projects. But, I also don’t want to force it on her. I just want her to know that she has options and she’s encouraged to pursue that if she wants to. I also want her to look into art and music.
How do you balance working full-time, being a single mom and pursuing a master's degree?
It’s very difficult. During the day I focus on my job, but as soon as I leave work, my work brain turns off and my mom brain turns on. I focus on my daughter until she goes to bed. When she’s asleep, that’s when homework happens.
What school are you pursuing your master's degree?
Florida Institute of Technology
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My professors in college told me to keep going and to not give up. There were classes in college that were really hard, but they were very encouraging to make sure that I knew that just because I got one bad grade, I could still be an engineer. You have to push through all the obstacles. If you have a goal, you can achieve it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers or anything you think would be beneficial for me to know?
Encouraging little girls to chase their dreams. And to all the women in Gamma Phi Beta - keep going and don’t give up. The road may be hard, but you can achieve your own version of success.
"You have to push through all the obstacles. Just don't stop. If you have a goal, you can achieve it."