Meet Karen Burton
Do-It-Yourself Podcast Exploration Careers Videos Transcript
(Burton) My name is Karen Burton. I’m the assistant manager of human resources here at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. I assist the manager with hiring new employees and talking to students about careers at NASA.
Preparation is Key
(Burton) A good school or work record is extremely important: good attendance, good grades, neat work ... Arrive on time and well-dressed for your interview. And do your homework about the organization. That shows me, as an interviewer -- or any hiring manager -- that you really are interested in a career at NASA and that you're not just looking for any job.
Begin Career Planning Early
(Burton) I don't think sixth or seventh grade is too early to begin thinking about your career. By the time you reach high school, you should be taking classes that are going to prepare you for your future. Also, be aware of your grade-point average. It can make a difference in what college you might be accepted to and also can highly affect any scholarships that ... might be available to you to help you in your chosen career. Yes, high school can be fun, but your future depends on your grade-point average and your work record in high school.
Civil Servants and Contractors
(Burton) Civil servants are government employees who are paid by federal money that is allocated to NASA each year by Congress and the federal budget. You will often hear them referred to as career employees. In contrast, contractors work for private companies who bid for services -- to provide services -- to NASA. The contractor workforce is a large workforce for NASA, and it can be adjusted up or down based on current project needs.
Meet Christopher Randall
(Randall) My name is Christopher Randall, and I work at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., for NASA, and I am a human resource[s] specialist in our Office of Human Capital.
From Student to NASA
(Randall) My pathway to my current career began with my pursuit of a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. While I was in school, I was offered what was then called a co-op position at Marshall Space Flight Center in our engineering directorate. Once I graduated with my bachelor's in mechanical engineering from Alabama A&M University here in Huntsville, I was offered a full-time position with our engineering directorate.
Chris Randall: Engineer
(Randall) An aerospace engineer is a person who designs and builds aircraft and spacecraft. As an aerospace engineer for NASA, I supported the Space Shuttle and Constellation Programs. I designed, built and tested various parts of the main propulsion systems. A propulsion system is all of the parts that help lift the vehicle off of Earth. Just like in your car, the engine, fuel tank and fuel line are all parts of the propulsion system that helps move your car forward.
From Engineering to Human Resources
(Randall) While doing my job as an engineer, I often work with students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines -- or the STEM fields. I've gone to career fairs, gone out to schools to talk to students, and have even had students come into NASA and work with our engineers and scientists on various projects in my department. After many successful student projects, someone thought that it would be a good idea for me to come work in the Office of Human Capital in our Academic Affairs Office on some of our student projects and programs. Now, the Office of Human Capital primarily deals with the "people side" of engineering. We do the hiring and provide training and other services to help NASA's people perform their best. I eventually accepted their offer, and now I work here at Marshall Space Flight Center as the center’s lead for the Pathways Program.
The Pathways Program
(Randall) The Pathways Program is a suite of education programs that includes the Pathway’s Internship Employment Program, the Pathways Recent Graduates Program and the Pathways Presidential Management Fellowship Program. These programs are designed to allow students a clear path into federal service while they're still in school, as far as the internship program. If you've recently graduated within the past two years, then our recent graduates program allows you an opportunity to come train and learn at Marshall in your field as well. Pathways Programs are relatively new and have replaced what you might know as the co-op program.
What Is an Internship?
(Randall) An internship is an on-the-job training experience usually reserved for students. Internships are extremely important in the careers of students. And NASA internships typically offer an advantage for students as they try to pursue careers at NASA after they graduate. Now, Pathways internships are longer-duration experiences that are designed to convert a student into full-time federal service upon graduation. While other NASA internships offer a great experience and great educational value, they may or may not be specifically designed to transition a student into full-time federal service after graduation.
Benefits of a Pathways Internship
(Randall) Becoming a Pathways intern means that you'll get an opportunity to experience working for NASA even before you graduate. Pathways interns work side by side with the world's leading experts in their fields of study on real NASA projects. As a Pathways intern, you'll receive some of the finest training available in your field, as well as be given the opportunity to be converted into a permanent position here at NASA once you graduate. You also make all the people back at school very jealous.
Benefits of Volunteering
(Randall) Having a work-life balance is important. So when we're recruiting, we're not only looking for students who have excelled academically but also those who are active in their community and in their personal lives. Sports, clubs, volunteering are all important things to have on your resume, but, more importantly, [they're] good to help you establish physical health and mental health, as well as give back to your community.
If at First You Don't Succeed ...
(Randall) Be persistent. Put your best work forward, but keep trying over and over again even if you're not selected your first time. The application process is very competitive, and we accept thousands of applications from across the country. So just because you weren't selected the first time, doesn’t mean that you weren’t good enough.
When I Knew I Wanted to Work at NASA
(Randall) I decided I wanted to work for NASA in about the fifth or sixth grade. I remember watching the space shuttle launches on TV in my middle school and thinking that I wanted to know what it was like to fly in space. When I graduated high school, I had to decide between the Air Force or engineering school because I believed that either one would help me work my way into NASA in a career as an astronaut. Now, I currently work for NASA, but I haven't flown yet. But I do know a couple of astronauts, and I guess that's pretty close.
NASA's Future Workforce
(Randall) We're currently working on Space Launch System, which is the nation's next generation of manned spaceflight vehicle that will take us beyond low Earth orbit into deep space. There are some unique challenges that come along with travelling into deep space, and so we will need plenty of engineers, scientists, mathematicians and technicians to help us solve some of these unique challenges. We're looking for the nation’s best and the brightest in the STEM disciplines.
The Worker NASA Is Looking For
(Randall) Being interdisciplinary will be in big demand. For example, not only being an engineer but being an engineer who understands computer programming and areas of science will be a major advantage. Knowing more than one subject, or even more than one language, and having the understanding of more than one culture will all be big advantages for students looking to pursue careers at NASA over the next eight to 10 years.
One of the Most Fun Things About My Job
(Randall) One of the most fun things I do in my job today is travelling to different colleges and universities to talk to students about the Pathways Program. I remember being a student not too long ago, and so it's always rewarding when I bump into a student who is as excited as I am about NASA. It's even more rewarding when I'm able to make that phone call to offer that student a Pathways internship opportunity. When I was in school, we didn't have the Pathways Program, and so now there is a more clear and direct path for students into careers in the federal service than there ever (was) in the past. So I'm very excited about this new program, and I think it's a very exciting time to be a student who is interested in a career at NASA.
Meet Monsi Roman
(Roman) My name is Monsi Roman. I work at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in the group that is designing the new systems of water and air for the astronauts to live outside of Earth, very far away -- places like the moon, Mars and, perhaps, a station way farther than the one we currently have.
Monsi Roman's Educational Background
(Roman) I have a bachelor's degree in biology with a major in microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico. That's where I found a passion for microbiology. That's where I took a class in microbiology, and I knew that's what I wanted to do. That's what I really like to do. So, I went and did my master's in microbiology.
From Microbiologist to Manager
(Roman) I am actually by training a microbiologist. So, I started in 1989 as a scientist in an engineering group that was designing the water and air systems for what is currently known as the International Space Station. It did not exist back then, so it was kind of a really cool path of discovery and understanding what it was like to design something that did not exist, and to keep people alive in a place that's so far away from Earth was a big challenge. When we finished the design and the buildup of the hardware -- for a microbiologist, there was not a lot of work left -- so I started transitioning to management, and that's where I am right now. I'm a project manager for the new systems.
I Love Science!
(Roman) I love science. You know, science is one of my passions. And I really think that if science is your passion, you should follow it. I didn't know what I was going to do with my degree when I started in school. I just loved doing it. I just had ... it just was not work for me. It was the most incredible thing -- every day was something really cool that I can find or learn. So, but, I didn't know. And when I started at NASA, space microbiology was not even a science. We had very little microbiology done in space and, eventually, [it] has evolved -- as we have all grown with the systems, it has evolved into actual science. You know. So, do not be afraid of pursuing your passion no matter what it is. Because other people might tell you, "I don't know what you're gonna do when you graduate with that degree." If that's what you like, you're gonna be able to make it into something that will at least keep you happy, maybe not rich. But that's not something that sometimes is important in life. Just being able to come to work and, for the most part, feel like you're doing something that makes a difference makes me happy.
The Importance of Teamwork
(Roman) OK, I cannot begin to tell you how important teamwork is in the development of systems like the one we're working -- we worked and we're working -- right now. Teamwork ... without teamwork, we cannot do it. We have experts that come from all kinds of different areas, and if we are not able to put them all at the table to talk about their expertise, we will be in big trouble. So, learning to work with people that perhaps might not be as willing to work in teams, and learning to work with people that are more than willing to work in teams -- it's really fun for me. It is a way of making the best use of your resources. So, it's a key. It's very important to learn that. In your group, always find the one that can put everybody together, not the one that divides them; because if you find somebody that finds fault all the time, there's gonna be a problem. But if you can find a person that can lead your group -- that can find the positives and can listen to everybody -- your product will be so much better and so much [more] useful than if you can just listen to one person and forget about everybody else because, you know, that is just not good.
Meet Camille Alleyne
(Alleyne) My name is Camille Wardrop Alleyne. I work here at NASA Johnson Space Center, and I am the assistant program scientist for the International Space Station. That means that I am responsible for all communications to the public, to our stakeholders, to Congress, to our leaders in Washington, D.C. And I'm responsible for all the education portfolio of the International Space Station, including the international education projects.
Camille Alleyne's Career Path
(Alleyne) I've spent 16 years working for the federal government. I have several degrees -- my undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Howard University. I have two master's degrees -- one in mechanical engineering from Florida A&M University and one in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland in College Park. I started my career at Kennedy Space Center as a flight test engineer working on the space shuttle payloads, testing and checking out of the environmental control life support systems. I spent eight years at the Department of Defense working on missile defense ballistic missile engineering and system integration, and then I joined NASA Headquarters working in Exploration as a systems engineer. And that was followed by my last position here at JSC in the Orion project as the deputy manager for the test and verification program for the Orion crew and service module. And that brought me six months ago to the International Space Station Program Science Office.
Colonel Mike Fincke
(Fincke) Hello. I'm Colonel Mike Fincke from the United States Air Force. I work at NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I flew as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle, as well as served two tours aboard the International Space Station. My most recent tour was commander of Expedition 18.
Mike Fincke's Career Path
(Fincke) Well, I started out as a little kid and I grew up. Along the way, I found out that I had something in my heart, something that I really liked doing. I found my passion, and that was space. I found it at an early age; I was like 3 or 4 years old. I was watching people walk on the moon, and I wanted to learn how to read, just so I could learn more about space. I had the bug -- the space bug. So in order to get to my goal of flying in space someday, I studied all I could about space. I worked really hard at school -- education is really important. I studied technical things -- science and math. I didn't even know what engineering was until I went to college, but when I did get to college, I studied engineering as well as planetary science. And it turns out that set me up very nicely along with my Air Force career of testing new airplanes. NASA picked me up as a mission specialist when I was 29 years old, and I spent a lot of time over in Russia working with the first parts of the International Space Station. And finally in 2004, I got my first trip to space. But it wasn't aboard the space shuttle: It was aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. And I tell you what, the first time I saw the Earth from space it was just so beautiful.
What It's Like to Be an Astronaut
(Fincke) So once you become an astronaut -- it takes a lot of effort to get there, a lot of studying; being really good in school; training whether it's through the military or being a scientist or an engineer somewhere or a doctor -- you think, "Oh yea, I get to be an astronaut now; it's all easy. I never have to go to school again!" Absolutely wrong! You spend a lot of time training as an astronaut, especially getting ready for your first mission. My first mission it took me four years of training to fly aboard the International Space Station. It was a lot of fun training. Some of it was in the textbook. Some of it was hands-on. Some of it was just talking to guys who have done this before. Some of it was sitting in Mission Control Center talking to the crews who were up there already. And it's a lot of fun and it's a lot of work, but it's not just here in the United States with the International Space Station. You have to learn and train in other countries, [on] other continents. So, I spent time in Japan training for the Japanese module, in Canada with the big robotic arm, as well as in Europe and a lot of time in Russia, especially since my first two flights were aboard the Russian Soyuz. We spent a lot of time in Russia. And being an astronaut, you really need to understand other cultures and other languages. And many of you who want to study being an astronaut, I recommend that you do get exposed to other languages and cultures because the more you communicate, the better off you are. And it turns out the secret isn't just for being an astronaut, but it's for making your way in the world today, so to speak. I mean it's a very multinational world out there, and the more you can talk, the more you can communicate and express yourself, as well as understand the next guy -- whether they're are born in a different continent or not -- the better off you are.
First Time in Space
(Fincke) I remember the first time I ever went to space. I was sitting on the launch pad, and this was aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. We were in the middle of Kazakhstan, a country in Central Asia, aboard a Russian rocket. ... "3, 2, 1" and we launched. Eight and a half minutes later, we were in space, and I had a window seat. And the first thing I did when I was in space, I made sure I was in space. I let go of my pencil, and it floated around. I looked out the window, and I saw planet Earth for the first time from orbit, and I tell you what, it was breathtaking. It was amazing, and I'll never forget that moment.
Meet Nancy Hall
(Hall) My name is Nancy Rabel Hall. I work at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. And my job is that of a project scientist and a project manager. And I work on experiments that fly on the space station.
It Began in Sixth Grade
(Hall) When I was in sixth grade is when ... my interest in science really took off. I had a sixth-grade science teacher that made learning fun. And it was about that time I decided I wanted to become a scientist. I wasn't sure what type of science I wanted to get into, but in high school I took physics, chemistry, biology. Then when I went to college, I decided to major in space science, which is primarily astronomy and physics. Then I received a Bachelor of Science degree at Florida Institute of Technology in space sciences, and then I came to work at NASA Glenn, which at that time was called the NASA Lewis Research Center. While working at NASA, I also received a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering. And that's where I am today, working at NASA.
Find Your Passion in Work
(Hall) I enjoy the work I do. It's a lot of fun, and I would encourage any students -- no matter what area they're interested in -- [to] find their passion. In other words, if you like what you do, then going to work is fun. And the best way to do that is when you see an area you're interested in, find others who are interested in that area. Learn about it. Find out what's the fun part of the job. What's the bad part of the job? You know, what's the boring part? See if there's something you like to do and then give it your 110 percent. That's how I was able to get to where I am today. I liked science as a kid, so in high school I took as many science and math courses as I could. And when I got to college, I did the same thing. I realize that not everyone may be interested in science, but whatever your passion, whatever you're interested in, that's what you should make your focus and your goal, and who knows where you'll end up!
Meet Clara Wright
(Wright) My name is Clara Wright, and I am a materials engineer at the Kennedy Space Center. Now, as a materials engineer, I work in a failure analysis lab, where we use high-power microscopes to figure out why something failed. I also use my expertise in materials to make sure that when we're designing any kind of hardware, we're using the right materials for the right applications.
Clara Wright Goes to NASA
(Wright) When I was young, I used to really like making jigsaw puzzles -- 1,000-piece, 2,000-piece puzzles -- and I liked to see how things fit together. I was always very good at math and science, particularly math, and one of my teachers in middle school recommended that I look into engineering. As I went into high school, I decided to go into a math, science and engineering program so that I could see more about engineering and learn more about it. And I was introduced to biomedical engineering, which I really liked because it's using biomedical engineering or engineering principles to try to help people, maybe people who need artificial limbs, or prosthetics, things like that. Now, as I went on to college -- The University of Florida -- I learned more about materials engineering. And then, there I saw that you could use materials engineering to help people across different types of industries. I was always interested in space, and when I got the job offer with NASA, I was very happy that I was able to contribute to society that way.
Each Day Is Different in the Failure Analysis Lab
(Wright) Each day is different for us at Kennedy Space Center -- especially in my job -- because whenever there's a failure and there's a rocket that can't launch, because we're going to be investigating something for that rocket. Then we have to go out to the launch pad, get the hardware, bring it back into our lab and do a whole investigation. There are other times when we're taking all of the investigation results and writing a report or maybe presenting them to our customer. Now, there are times when we have a rocket launch, which is very exciting for us, so we get to go out and talk to the public. And we get to watch the launch ourselves. Now, other times, I'll go out to schools, talk to students and explain to them all the exciting things that we're doing at NASA. And just recently, I've been getting involved in helping the Kennedy Space Center to make sure that all of the laboratories across the center have the correct equipment and the people are properly trained and wearing the correct safety equipment so that they don't get hurt doing their analyses. For example, whenever it's raining, you have to go outside and wear a raincoat and an umbrella so you don't get wet. The same way in a laboratory -- we have to wear a lab jacket; we have to wear gloves; we have to wear personal protective equipment to make sure that we are not exposed to any harmful chemicals. So, each day's a little bit different for us at Kennedy Space Center.
Some of the Most Interesting Things I've Done
(Wright) One of the more interesting things that I've done is I've gotten to work in investigations with astronauts. And in one particular case, I got to work on a very long-term, long-range type of investigation. And when that astronaut went off to space, he sent me an email from space. So that was kind of neat because I got to see something that you don't normally see. Now, working at Kennedy Space Center, we get to go inside of the shuttle cockpits. For example, when we were processing the shuttle or inside a node that is now at space station, but while it was on the ground, we got to go inside of it. So, I get to do things that not many people get to do. And also, we get to work and see how senior managers -- I've gotten to sit in -- and see how they make decisions about the future of the center. So it's been very interesting to see that.
Benefits of Engineering
(Wright) I really like to encourage students to think about a career in engineering because what it does is it really teaches you to problem solve, to think outside the box, and that's going to help you in any part of your life. Also think about any hobbies that you have, or how engineers impact your everyday life -- from smartphones to computers to cars to buildings. There are so many things that engineers are a part of that you would not necessarily think. So I'd like to encourage students to think about those things. Think about their hobbies, and see how a career in engineering would fit into that.
Introducing Torey Long
(Long) My name is Torey Long, and I'm a materials engineer at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in the Materials Failure Analysis Laboratory. My job is to investigate failure, which just means that I figure out why things break. We like to think of ourselves as NASA’s version of a detective, but instead of investigating crime, we investigate failure.
Torey Long's Path to NASA
(Long) When I was growing up, I loved to read Nancy Drew books and other mysteries. I wanted to be a detective. But when I got to high school, I found out I was good at science and math. So, when I went to college at Auburn University, I decided to become a materials engineer. While I was in school, I got an internship at Kennedy Space Center. An internship is an opportunity for students to learn from experienced engineers while we're still in school. I learned that the investigation process for failures is similar to the investigation process that I learned about in the books that I read growing up. I decided to become a co-op, and a co-op is a program that allows students to work while they're still in school. When I graduated, I decided that I wanted to get more education, so I went to graduate school at the University of Florida. I got my master's degree, which is just one level above a normal college degree. When I graduated, I converted to full-time at the Materials Failure Analysis Laboratory, and I found out that I could combine two of my interests, which were mysteries and science and math, into a career.
The Most Interesting Thing I've Done So Far
(Long) One of the most interesting things that I've been a part of while at NASA has been the investigation of some debris that was brought back by the astronauts from the International Space Station. The astronauts collected the debris while they were on a spacewalk. Many of the particles were smaller than a grain of sand. And even though they were so tiny, we were able to determine that the debris was coming off of a joint that rotates to keep the solar arrays so that they're always facing the sun. We were also able to determine why the debris was coming off, which allowed engineers on the ground to allow astronauts to clean the joint so that we could continue using the solar arrays. This was a large-scale investigation, which involved engineers from across NASA and also required many space shuttle missions and astronaut spacewalks.
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