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Event Planner Extraordinaire Michelle Jones Knows How to Engage the Public
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Whether planning events for 15,000 members of the public or 40 plus family members, Michelle R. Jones makes the impossible possible.

Name: Michelle R. Jones
Title: Team Lead, Public Engagement Team, Office of Communications
Formal Job Classification: Lead, Public Affairs Specialist
Organization She Works For: Code 130, Office of Communications, Office of the Director

What is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?

My day changes every day. I attend a lot of meetings but I also put out a lot of fires. I could be doing anything from planning an event like Explore@NASAGoddard (see image below) to advising members of my team on various projects that they are working on at that time.

Teamwork and collaboration are extremely important in all aspects of my job and what I like most about my job. Without teamwork, I would not be able to accomplish even a tenth of what I do. I really enjoy being in a team environment, sharing responsibilities, and learning from other people. I’ve been told that teamwork is one of my strengths. I think this is because I truly value what everyone brings to the table, I listen to everyone, and I try to create a space where people feel comfortable and safe contributing. Although a lot of people here work with machines, my specialty, and the specialty of those in my office, is people and especially communicating with and about them on their behalf. Our job is to tell other people’s stories.

Photo of Michelle Jones
Photo of Michelle Jones. Credit: NASA

As the Team Lead for Public Engagement, you plan large-scale events on behalf of the Center. Can you tell us what is involved?

Event planning is only one element of my job, but it is perhaps the most visible. It involves understanding senior management’s vision for a particular event and then making the event a reality. First, I sit down and listen to them to fully understand their goals for the event. Once I understand their goals, I then engage the right people to make their vision come to life. These types of events require our office to connect with other parts of the Center as active participants. We work with people in facilities, security, graphic design, and of course the scientists and engineers. We interact with just about every Code on Center, especially for a large-scale event. We do not sit within our office walls to make these things happen. We ask for and get support from all over the Center. It is truly a Center-wide team effort.

Explore Explore@Goddard Day 2011 aerial view of the festivities. Credit: NASA

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

It is always cool to meet famous people. I have been lucky enough to have met The Queen of England, Patti LaBelle, and other celebrities. But what is even cooler for me is coaching my team and others to embrace the impossible. I believe in my team, help them to believe in themselves, and encourage them to take on challenges. Event planning has so many different pieces involved. When I see my team work through all these challenges and feel proud of themselves, I am even prouder of them.

As a team, there is nothing more thrilling than seeing a huge event come to life. The day of the event, I always step back and take it all in with a sense of real satisfaction that everything came together. I’m aware of the contributions of my team and myself, but also very thankful for all the help and support from all the others across the Center. It is an overwhelming, awe-inspiring feeling. For example, Explore@NASAGoddard was a 6–8 month effort that brought approximately 15,000 to Goddard. The day of the event, I forgot about all the issues leading up to that day and was thrilled to see everyone learning, enjoying, and having a good time. I almost feel like a proud parent watching my child walk for the first time. It was a huge accomplishment that the Center achieved and the public enjoyed and benefited from immensely.

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

No matter what job you have, it is very important to step out of your shell and get to know people and what they do. You never know when they may need your expertise or when you might benefit from theirs. It is too easy to get caught up in your daily routines, but I believe that the key to success at work or in life is taking the time to hear other peoples’ stories and for them to hear yours as well. When you take the time to share at that level, trust forms and a relationship begins. And relationships lead to tremendous synergy–together people can achieve more than any one individual. I am a huge fan of sayings, and one of my favorites which illustrate this point is the following anonymous saying: “Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” At the end of the day, work and life are all about relationships. At its most basic level, engagement means building relationships. That is why I love my job.

Do you have a favorite way, or place to kick back, relax or have fun?

I play as hard as I work and recommend this approach to everyone! On my personal time, I love to have fun with my family. Family time is important and that includes our 12-year-old daughter Paige and 19-year-old son Karim Jr. My husband, Karim Jones, who also works here, and I have a large, extended family. It is not uncommon for 40-plus people to gather at my house for an evening of food, fun, and other festivities.

Of Note: Michelle Jones received the 2011 "Exceptional Achievement Award in Leadership."

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