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Fostering Relationships at Work and in the Community One Flying Kick at a Time
June 15, 2011
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Whether he’s fostering teamwork in various organizations at Goddard, sailing out of Annapolis or throwing kicks and punches at his non-profit karate studio, for Dr. Howard Kea it’s all about building community and increasing collaboration. Especially if getting together means mouth-watering Chinese-Jamaican fusion is on the menu.

What is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?

My day is full of interactions with a lot of people. I usually help organizations solve organizational problems and challenges such as interpersonal dynamics, team performance, diversity, communication, and roles and responsibilities. My primary client is the Science Exploration Directorate, Code 600.

I have an office but usually I go to the location of the organization I am helping. So I get to go all over the center.

I do get to work with some interesting tools of my trade. I work with a lot of tools to conduct behavior and personality assessments. I also design my own survey instruments using Survey Monkey, a web-based survey tool.

Teamwork and collaboration are critical and paramount to my job. I help organizations increase their teamwork and collaboration.

Who is the most interesting or inspiring person you have met here and why?

Portrait of Howard Kea
Photo of Howard Kea. Credit: NASA/Rebecca Roth
Sharon Wong, Goddard’s Special Assistant for Diversity, is very interesting because she has traveled around the world. She also has an interesting heritage since she is Jamaican of Chinese descent. The food at her family parties is crazy delicious!

What was your best day or the best thing that ever happened to you at Goddard and why?

Almost every day at Goddard is a good day. After I see one of our projects successfully launched, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment which is shared by the entire team.

What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done as part of your job at Goddard?

I started at NASA Headquarters 21 years ago as a computer engineer. In 2008, I earned a doctorate in organizational behavior and now work as a human resources specialist. When I first came to Goddard 15 years ago, I worked as a mission operations engineer on the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite program. I was the Deputy Project Manager for upgrading the ground system tracking station in Fairbanks, Alaska, so I got to go to Fairbanks three times. I loved it, it was great! For my current job, the coolest thing is that I get to help teams and organizations play together more nicely.

What lessons or words of wisdom would you pass along to somebody just starting their career at Goddard?

After working for NASA for 21 years, I found that it is important for new employees to establish relationships in their immediate organization and also outside their organization. If it is possible, at some point find a trusted colleague whom you can call a personal friend. It makes a big difference.

If you could meet and talk to anybody, living or dead, who would it be and what’s the first thing you’d ask them?

Howard Kea performing a flying side kick at his non-profit karate studio. This one really hits close to home because it would be my Dad who died when I was seven years old. I would ask him what motivated him to overcome all the tremendous obstacles in his life. My Dad was an African American fighter pilot for the Air Force very early in the jet age.

Do you have a favorite book, magazine, movie, or TV show?

My favorite author is Anthony Winkler whose humorous books are based on the Jamaican culture. My wife is Jamaican and introduced me to this author.

What do you love to do outside of work?

I love to sail and own a small sailboat. I’m a member of the Universal Sailing Club near Annapolis which is the only African American sailing club on the east coast.
Howard Kea performing a flying side kick at his non-profit karate studio. › View larger image Credit: Howard Kea

Also, I am a fourth degree black belt in the martial art of Soo Bahk Do, a traditional Korean martial art. I own and operate a non-profit karate studio in Silver Spring, Maryland with the aim of fostering positive relationships within our community. Generally an entire family takes the same class together.

Lastly, where would you most like to visit and why?

I have been fortunate in that I have traveled a lot. I would love to see New Zealand because it is such a beautiful place and it is the home of the Kea Parrot, who is my namesake.

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Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.