NASA People

Center Snapshot: Christie Funk
06.01.09
Image above: Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars (LARSS) student Christie Funk performs end-to-end checks for the unsteady pressure transducers on the Semi-span Supersonic Transport Wing located in the Transonic Dynamic Tunnel (TDT). NASA/Sean Smith

By: Denise Lineberry

Christie Funk does not consider herself a "traditional" Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars (LARSS) program student. Her non-traditional route, her drive and her passion have landed her exactly where she wants to be – at NASA.

"The LARSS program has not only significantly changed my life but also solidified the direction that I want my life to take," Funk said. "Experiences along the way somehow led me here, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else."

Funk was a full-time student, working toward her degree in business management, and she was working full-time as a restaurant manager at Saddleridge in Hampton when Debbie Murray, LARSS program coordinator, was there making a reservation for the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) group from NASA Langley.

Funk was already researching opportunities at Langley. She used the conversation as an opportunity to pass on her resume.

Funk was put in touch with Walt Silva of the Research and Technology Directorate "and the journey began."

"I was struggling with the career transition that I wanted to make, as I had earned a bachelors degree in business and wanted to pursue a career in aerospace," she said.

After receiving her first degree, Funk began her first of three sessions as a LARSS student and became a graduate student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, attending classes online. She will graduate this year with a masters degree in aeronautical science.

"Enrolling in the graduate program at Embry-Riddle was a good start, but LARSS was the perfect opportunity for me to enter into the industry and gain experience from the most qualified scientists and engineers," she said.

Her third session as a LARSS student begins in June. This fall, she will attend Old Dominion University to work on a second masters degree in aerospace engineering.

Funk witnessed her first live shuttle launch in 2008. "Watching that launch up close intensified my desire to pursue my goals," she said.

Funk is fascinated by aeronautics. She hopes to get her pilot's license and maybe one day "hitch a ride to the moon." She also hopes to witness a human land on Mars, and she would like to work on a project developing the next generation transport aircraft and fighter aircraft.

She is equally fascinated by her work in the Research and Technology Directorate. As an intern in the Aeroelasticity Branch, she is working alongside a team of engineers in tests at the Transonic Dynamic Tunnel (TDT).

"During testing, I am helping the engineers with as many tasks as possible," Funk said. "I have been able to help with the model installation, calibration procedures and control room set up."

Over the next few weeks, she will participate in monitoring the model's responses to changing conditions. "I will also be able to see how implementing various control laws can increase the flutter boundary for the model," she said.

Funk is taking full advantage of the opportunities afforded to her. "I feel so fortunate that I have had the opportunity to work on these types of projects. I have the opportunity to attend lectures, use resources from the technical library, network with others and work alongside the most intelligent scientists and engineers at NASA Langley," she said. "I also had the opportunity to participate in Aerospace Day at the General Assembly. As a member of a team of three, we spoke to Virginia senators and delegates about the importance of student involvement at NASA and NASA’s missions."

And she doesn't consider her location too shabby either. "I am working in the TDT, a tunnel with historical significance and opportunities for relevant research," Funk said.

One day, she hopes to give back and be able to mentor students, the same way Walt Silva and Boyd Perry have mentored her. "Being able to mentor another student would mean that I have excelled in some expertise relative to NASA’s goals and that would be an incredible accomplishment," Funk said.

Silva, Perry and many others, including Debbie Murray and Sarah Pauls of the LARSS Program Office, have truly impacted her life.

"The opportunities that I have had through the LARSS program simply cannot be measured," Funk said. "From the people, to the projects, to the exposure, to 'all things NASA,' this experience is simply the best!"

Funk, a Hampton Roads native, loves "catching an F-22 putting on a show on my way in to work, the beach on a really hot, sunny day and air and space topics." She is also an animal lover and a collector of quotes.

"My current quote is: 'The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark,' " by Michelangelo.

"And I always remember that 'perseverance pays off,' " she added.

Perseverance and encouragement got her through two complete LARSS sessions and one degree with another session and degree just ahead, no matter how untraditional or unlikely it may have seemed at one point.

"The encouragement I have received has made it that much easier to go after my dreams," Funk said.