NASA Dryden's Jeanette Le: From war-torn Vietnam to a career at NASA
Branch Chief, Simulation Engineering
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center
From a childhood in war-torn Vietnam to a career at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Southern California, Jeanette Le has had a challenging yet rewarding life, to say the least.
Born in Saigon, Le's family escaped when the Vietnam war ended, arriving in California in 1975 when she was eight years old. The youngest of six children, she and her family lived in San Francisco for four years, then moved to Monterey Park, near Los Angeles, where they resided for the next 10 years.
Jeanette attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), graduating in 1989 with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering. She was hired in 1989 straight out of UCLA by NASA Dryden's simulation branch following an interview by the software group lead.
She went on to earn her master's degree in aeronautics/astronautics engineering from Stanford University in 1994.
"My only exposure to NASA Dryden before being hired was through a senior design class that was part of the Universities Space Research Association, which provided advisors from Dryden," Le said. "So I got to work with great people like Dr. Ken Iliff and Lee Duke, and meet others like Al Bowers, Ken Szalai, Bob Curry and Greg Noffz, as well as my future husband Bob Antoniewicz, months before I even started working here," Le remembers.
Moving from green places to the desert for the first time can be rough.
"I missed the humidity – Vietnam and the [San Francisco] bay area are very humid, and even Los Angeles have more humidity than the Mojave Desert. I had a tough time acclimatizing," she remembered.
"What I liked the most moving from L.A. was no smog; you can actually see the sky here versus L.A., and the drive is much easier. I used to drive 1 1/2 hours to go 22 miles to school in L.A.," Le added.
After working as a simulation software engineer from 1989 to early 2002, Le then served as acting deputy branch chief for nine months. Next, she served as acting branch chief for another nine months before being selected as simulation branch chief in late 2003. She continues in this leadership role today.
The recipient of a NASA Exceptional Service Award, Le says "The best part of my job is working with the people on the projects. I get exposure to a lot of different engineering disciplines, so I get to learn from a lot of different people. That provides a diverse perspective on flight research."
Le has mentored new and junior engineers for projects such as the X-43A and the X-45. She has also mentored student engineers in NASA's co-op program.
A highlight for her is always reaching the point when a project flies. All the years of preparation, in Jeanette's case all the simulation work, finally pays off when the project aircraft takes to the skies for the first time.
Le's favorite projects include the first she worked on at NASA Dryden, a feasibility study for Propulsion Controlled Aircraft project, and the "last one" she worked on.
"The first project at Dryden was special and eye-opening because I got my first exposure to real world flight research," Le remembers. "And you always hope the next project will be as good as or better than the last. That was definitely the case with the last project I worked on as a simulation engineer on the X-43A."
A Vietnamese cultural tradition Le celebrates each year is Tet, the Lunar New Year. She says that the Vietnamese culture has a strong emphasis on family hierarchy, roles and responsibilities. Most social gatherings revolve around lots of food and very loud conversations.
"Though not highly-educated themselves, my parents always emphasized education as the key to succeeding in life, and made sure all six kids got college degrees," Le concluded.
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