Students Meet Lesa Roe, Up Close and Virtual
By: Denise Lineberry
NASA's Langley Research Center Director Lesa Roe, was once a student with questions, much like the eighth graders in El Paso, Texas, and the seventh graders in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., that she spoke to on May 9 through NASA's Digital Learning Network (DLN).
Through distance learning technologies like videoconferencing and webcasting, the DLN connects students and teachers with NASA experts and education specialists. As part of the DLinFocus Series, Roe was enlisted to talk about her career.
She talked the pupils through moments from her life as a student, an engineer, a mother and as a center director for the nation's space agency.
"When I was your age, I didn't know what I wanted to do," Roe said. "It's been a long, windy path."
Roe knew she liked math and science and continued to focus on those subjects into college. While attending the University of Florida, she discovered co-op opportunities at NASA that allowed her to work and go to school.
"I learned what engineering was all about and realized it was what I like to do, and I also realized 'Wow, I can do this.' " Roe said.
She spoke about her industry career with Hughes Space and Communications, designing satellites. There she was offered a fellowship and completed her Master’s degree.
She returned to Kennedy Space Center (KSC), where she worked as a co-op, in the space shuttle program. Her work focused on the communications between the space shuttle and mission control and in satellite communications. Within her 15-year KSC career, she worked on “some 22 missions.”
"Then, I decided I wanted to do more," Roe said.
Her next stop was Johnson Space Center where she worked lead research for the International Space Station (ISS).
"The ISS was just getting started then, but today it is huge. It’s really the size of a five-bedroom house with two bathrooms and a gymnasium," she told the students.
Four years later, she decided to come to Langley and eventually became Langley's first female center director.
As her opportunities continued to grow, so did her family. Roe shared a photo of herself carrying twins as she explained the importance of learning to balance her work and her family of five. "I wanted to make sure I was contributing to generations of the future, while building my family along the way," she said.
"It's been a really exciting trip."
That trip landed her in front of a virtual student audience from Lyons Creek Middle School in Florida, and Guillen Middle School in Texas, along with others who were watching online and sending questions by email.
"What motivated you to be what you are now?" one student asked.
Roe answered: "I really got excited about things I didn’t know about, and that’s probably what led me to engineering and to NASA. It fascinates and inspires me to learn about the unknown and to make a difference, doing things no one else does. I really think we are making a difference in the world by what we do at NASA."
She spoke of Langley's efforts to make bio-friendly, fuel-efficient aircraft with fewer noise emissions and faster-than-sound-speeds. "Mach 5 is five times the speed of sound," Roe said. "We work on air vehicles that go to Mach 5 and beyond."
Roe discussed the development of inflatable habitats created for living in space and self-healing materials. She spoke of wind tunnel testing, possible missions to Mars and missions that study the Earth’s surface and atmosphere.
"What courses would you recommend for someone for someone who wants to work at NASA?" a student asked.
"Definitely math and science," Roe said as she explained the opportunities available to them now, through student education programs and competitions, to a future career as an engineer, a scientist, a biologist, a chemist and other NASA occupations such as an accountant or a lawyer.
"What advice do you have for girls pursuing a STEM career?" a listener asked in an email.
"This advice is the same for girls and boys – don't give up," Roe said. "Don't let anybody tell you, you can't do it, because you can."
"Did you ever think that becoming the first female director was an impossible task?" another student asked.
"All of the projects I was working on along the way were just so exciting that I never thought of it as something I couldn't do," Roe said "And that's why I'm telling you that you should not think that you can't do it."
This initiative cultivated when Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) DLN coordinator invited former Director Roy Bridges for a career series. Bridges continued to visit his center's DLN studio regularly to talk with students.
"It's a good idea to get directors involved and let them talk to students," said Caryn Long, NASA's DLN manager. "The Administrator [Charlie Bolden] wants leadership to be more involved with education, so it was a natural fit."
A few months ago, Roe anticipated an opening in her schedule and agreed to make her first DLN experience. And Long hopes it won’t be her last.
"We want her [Roe] to have a good experience and want to come back again," Long said.
"You are the future that will keep our economy thriving," said Karen Ricks, DLN host, after she and Roe thanked the students for participating.
And to Roe, for her answers and inspiration, a bigger "thank you" was echoed from the classrooms and back into Langley's DLN studio.
To learn more about NASA's Digital Learning Network (DLN), please visit:
The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman