New Program Molds Emerging NASA Leaders
A common thread ran through the first graduating class of NASA's Mid-Level
"It was a career-changer, really," said Peter Lillehei, who works in the
Advanced Materials and Processing Branch at NASA's Langley Research Center,
which hosted the graduation ceremony Friday in the Reid Conference Center in
"Career-changing," echoed Susan McClain, a classmate who works in Langley's
The 29-member class, representing every NASA center and agency headquarters,
was drawn in competition from among 140 applicants for the 14-month program,
which actually has two months to run. It was designed almost two years ago
by a group that included Debbie Markham, now the MLLP manager, to fill a gap
in the education of the agency's leaders.
"We had a long-term development program for sort of the entry-level leaders
at GS 11 and 12," said Markham, who presided at Friday's graduation. "We had
the (Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program) to get folks
ready for the big time. But we had a huge population of about 10,000 NASA
employees who are team leads, project leads, first-line supervisors, but we
didn't have anything structured for them."
That structure became the NASA MLLP, which involved core programs in
leadership, management, decision-making, communications skills, business
acumen along with a three-six month career-broadening rotation to learn new
skills and opportunities.
"It's given me an opportunity to examine where I am right now in my career
path," said Lillehei, who learned about the program from his supervisor.
"It's allowed me to examine where I am and where I want to go. It's also
given me the tools to help me get there."
There, in his case, involves looking beyond his job in his branch to a role
in helping structure the agency's future.
The idea in MLLP is to have the individual examine where he or she is on a
personal career track, and then to further look at how that track meshes
with the goal and mission of the agency.
Among those tools Lillehei mentioned were the other 28 members of his
graduating class, which form a toolbox for each to draw upon in what Rick
Keegan, NASA's associate deputy administrator, called "probably the central
issue in organizations of any kind of complexity and size like NASA."
That issue is collaborative leadership, or "how do you work across
organization boundaries, be they center or functional or technical or
support?" said Keegan, who helped design the MLLP. "You really have to raise
yourself up and see things from a larger perspective in order to come to a
right answer or best conclusion.
"It can't be 'either-or.' It has to be about 'and.' "
Keegan, along with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, and others from
headquarters spent Thursday night and Friday morning with the MLLP class,
exchanging ideas and opinions from among a group, Keegan said, that was not
reluctant to offer both.
"This program, the MLLP, was designed specifically to address the agency's
changing needs," Keegan told the group at the graduation ceremony. "You are
so fortunate to be part of this inaugural graduating class, but NASA is also
fortunate to have you with the agency."
The accent throughout the ceremony was on the future. Speakers stood at a
podium flanked by banners on which was written "we are creating the future"
and "we are shaping our nation's technological progress."
"At NASA, we are called to think about the future," said Kimberly Ennico of
Ames Research Center, an MLLP member, told her classmates in a speech. "An
authentic future, not a future peppered with pockets of 'presentism.' We
are not spectators. We are investors and active participants in our future."
It's a future, she added, that could include finding that Earth isn't the
only place in the solar system with life.
And it's a future built on a foundation of doing the "impossible."
"How about these for impossibilities: landing robots on Mars? Imaging the
farthest extent of our known Universe? Sustaining astronauts on the largest
airborne observatory in the world? Discovering potentially habitable
planets? Developing and launching a new space vehicle?" listed Justin Junod,
a graduate from Kennedy Space Center, in another speech to his classmates.
"The list goes on and on."
"We're living these 'possibilities' now."
And so they face a future of accomplishing new "impossibilities."
Said Ennico: "The people who can make that happen are sitting in this room
and looking at me right now."
And, perhaps, in the second MLLP class, numbering 25 and beginning in March.
Jennifer Budd, GRC; Diana Calero, KSC; Stephen Cumming, DGRC; Kimberly
Ennico, ARC; Maria Furr, HQ; Tammy Gafka, JSC; Darlene Gross, ARC; Robert
Hanley, JSC; Stephen Janney, JSC; Justin Junod, KSC; Andrew Knutson, KSC;
Peter Lillehei, LaRC; June Malone, MSFC; Gregory Mann, HQ; Susan McClain,
LaRC; Torin McCoy, JSC; Dawn McIntosh, ARC; Michael Moreau, GSFC;
Nylesevalis Ortiz-Collazo, GSFC; Justin Pane, ARC; Jill Prince, LaRC; John
Rakoczy, MSFC; Nicole Rayl, ARC; Gigi Savona, SSC; Sasha Sims, KSC; Dawn
Stanley, MSFC; Edward Teets, DFRC; Sarah Waechter, KSC; Pamela Wolfe, NSSC.
NASA Langley Research Center