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NASA Engineer Honored as Girl Scouts ‘Woman of Distinction’

A woman wearing glasses and a blue patterned shirt and green sweater smiles at the camera as she stands in front of a green banner that says, “Girl Scouts of North East Ohio.”
Danielle Koch, an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, was honored by the Girl Scouts of North East Ohio as a 2024 Woman of Distinction. She accepted the award during a ceremony on May 16.
Credit: Girl Scouts of North East Ohio/Andrew Jordan

You’d think a NASA aerospace engineer who spends her days inside a giant dome researching how to make plane engines quieter and spacecraft systems more efficient would have a pretty booked schedule. Still, advocacy and mentoring, especially for women and girls in STEM, is something Danielle Koch always tries to say yes to.

For decades, Koch has tutored students, volunteered as a mentor for engineering challenges, and engaged Pre-K through Ph.D. classes with stories from her career at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Koch also works to recruit women and others from underrepresented groups to the field and find ways to remove barriers to their advancement.

For her efforts, Koch was recently recognized by the Girl Scouts of North East Ohio as a 2024 Woman of Distinction. The award, presented to Koch during a ceremony on May 16, celebrates women whose leadership contributes to the community, providing girls with positive role models. Koch says that diverse people and programs have similarly shaped her own career path.

“None of this is anything I’ve done myself; there are huge groups of people who are making change and making things better for all of us,” Koch said. “Every story I tell about me being a woman at NASA is really a story about them.”

: A man and a woman wearing masks work on equipment inside a NASA acoustic facility. Large tan fiberglass wedges line the walls of the facility.
Danielle Koch (right) is an aerospace engineer in the Acoustics Branch at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, where she works to make flight quieter and spacecraft systems more efficient.
Credit: NASA/Jef Janis

A Pittsburgh native and graduate of Case Western Reserve University, Koch began her career as a test engineer at NASA Glenn in 1990 as the only woman in her work group. While there were women around her, Koch says she did not see many senior-level female engineers or scientists “working ahead of her.” With determination and the “rock-solid” support of colleagues, family, and friends, Koch forged ahead, becoming a research aerospace engineer in NASA Glenn’s Acoustics Branch in 1998.

“She’s somebody that goes above and beyond almost all of the time, while using her knowledge and career to bring others up to her level,” said John Lucero, Koch’s supervisor and the chief of the Acoustics Branch at NASA Glenn.

Koch realized the landscape around her was evolving in 2016 when she sat down in one of NASA Glenn’s biggest conference rooms for the center’s annual Women Ignite workshop. It was the first time she’d seen the space entirely filled with women.

“It was striking,” Koch said. “Learning from each other and being visible to each other, it’s so huge.”

Koch points to insights gleaned from these workshops — which are focused on networking, skill-building, and empowerment — as propelling her forward, along with the center’s Women in STEM Leadership Development Program, launched to help the women of NASA Glenn connect and grow as leaders.

NASA Glenn Research Center aerospace engineer Danielle Koch gives a tour of the Aero-Acoustic Propulsion Laboratory to a group of students in 2017.
Credit: NASA/Marvin Smith

Koch also spotlights the value of the Women at Glenn employee resource group, which organizes events and panels, shares job and volunteer opportunities, and provides a platform for addressing issues in the workplace.

“The employee resource group offers a great sense of community for women at the center,” said Women at Glenn co-chair and aerospace engineer Christine Pastor-Barsi. “When you feel like you’re unique, it’s good to know that there are others out there like you, even if you don’t always see them in the room.”

Koch says she’ll continue working as a mentor in the community and advocating for the diverse range of people who choose to take the leap into the STEM fields.

“It’s difficult to be the only one that’s visibly different in a room; it changes the way you communicate, the way you’re perceived,” Koch said. “It’s really important to reach out to people who are different from us and invite them to consider engineering as a career. We all benefit when we work with someone who’s different from ourselves.”

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