Aerospace Engineer Dean Chai Attributes Self-Motivation to His Success
Supervisory Aerospace Engineer believes that everything has to align for good things to happen and that each individual is responsible for making things align.
Associate Branch Head
Formal Job Classification:
Supervisory Aerospace Engineer
Organization He Works For:
Code 591, Attitude Control Systems Engineering Branch, Mission Engineering & Systems Analysis Division, Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate
What is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?
As Associate Branch Head, I help manage the branch but I also do technical work including attitude control analysis for the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission. Attitude Control is the pointing control of a spacecraft. Anytime you observe a planetary object, you need to maintain accurate and steady pointing in order to capture images scientists want. We developed high fidelity dynamical simulation aided by high-resolution graphics so that everything comes alive.
What qualities do you have that helped you become a supervisor before the age of thirty?
I’d like to think doing good work, being dedicated, and taking pride in the work contributes to my becoming a
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Photo of Dean Chai. Credit: NASA
supervisor at a young age. But equally important are being able to communicate and work well with a variety of personalities. While having a supportive boss and mentors help, I strongly believe that everything has to align for good things to happen and they don’t happen by chance. The individual is responsible for making things align and it starts with oneself.
What makes Goddard a great place to work?
We have a lot of talented, enthusiastic people who love what they do. This makes all the difference; everyone is self-motivated.
What was your best day or the best thing that ever happened to you at Goddard?
It is difficult to pinpoint. One recent experience is that we have been trying to elevate a particular area of interest within the branch, but our team has been overloaded with existing work. One day, a relatively senior engineer whom I have been attempting to engage stopped by my office and offered to take the initial step. Motivating that person to take one small step actually made my day! Confucius had a relevant saying: “If one hopes to attain order in the state, one must first bring his own family and personal life into order through self-cultivation and the expansion of one's knowledge and the investigation of things.” The translation is a bit rough, but my take-away from this popular quote is that things always start small, but, through good intention and persistence, they will happen.
How would you describe success?
Success is when a person lives a happy and self-fulfilled life. As Buddhist teachings say, in order to reach eternal happiness you have to rid yourself of attachments to things. The moment you detach, you attain happiness and thereby success. It is important to seek success in things that you try to do yourself rather than constantly hoping for something great to somehow just happen. The key is self-motivation.
Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests, activities outside of work that people do not generally know?
I am a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician for the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad. I go in every Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. and leave every Thursday morning at 7:00 p.m., so I’m extra sleep-deprived on Thursdays! I’ve been volunteering for about a year and a half. I have met many, very different people at the squad. There are a lot of older medical patients and veterans in our immediate service area. Our station has a Rescue Squad vehicle that extricates people from vehicles, so we assist with a lot of beltway personal injury collision calls between Connecticut Ave. and the Clara Barton Parkway.
Is there someplace in the world that you want to visit, or someplace you have been and want to go back?
My wife and I were both born in Taiwan and immigrated here at an early age. We both speak Chinese and Chinese culture is a very integral part of our life. Also, we both have family including our parents in Taiwan whom we visit every year.
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Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.