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Center Snapshot: Sharon Monica Jones
Sharon Jones. Image above: Sharon Monica Jones, who recently won an award for her work in aviation safety, was inspired by a magazine story on former NASA Langley engineer Christine Darden. Photo credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Jim Hodges

It began with a copy of Ebony magazine. Sharon Monica Jones was flipping through it, checking out pictures of rock and movie stars and other assorted celebrities, when she ran across a story about now-retired NASA Langley engineer Christine Darden.

"I saw the picture, and she had a shirt on just like mine," said Jones, who works in systems and portfolio analysis for NASA's Aviation Safety Program. "I had just finished interning at IBM, and I hated to get dressed up," which she had to do with the computer company.

Jones laughed, something she does easily. She read the story and saw that Darden had a math background and went to graduate school in engineering.

"Just like I wanted to," Jones said.

And just like she did, at Hampton University for undergrad work and the University of Virginia in systems engineering. And, later, at Old Dominion for her doctorate.

The University of Virginia was her link with NASA Langley, though she had been to the center as a scout while growing up in Kecoughtan.

"On my application to the University of Virginia, they saw I lived in Hampton and they said, 'hey, you know we have a summer program at Langley,' " Jones said. "That's how I got into the LARSS program."

The Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars program introduced her to the varied engineering possibilities at the center. It included robotics, which she grew to enjoy and which was her entre into Langley upon earning her masters degree in systems engineering in Charlottesville. Later, she moved to aeronautics, where she now works. She’s been working in aviation safety for a decade.

It’s where her work has been recognized with a Research Leadership Award by the Black Engineers of the Year Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Global Competitiveness Council.

Jones will receive her award on February 17 at the organization's Emerald Honors Award dinner in Washington.

Flexibility has helped her progress through her career. "I started in electrical engineering at Hampton because I wanted to be a broadcast engineer," she said. "I volunteered at television stations in high school because I wanted to work behind the scenes in television.

"Now I'm working behind the scenes in helping people out front to make decisions."

Her job is to analyze safety options and make recommendations based on her analyses.

Jones has seen changes in more than 20 years as an engineer, beginning with more women in the field.

"In college, and this was the late '80s and early '90s, I was the only woman in the class," she said. "It was better in systems engineering (at Virginia), but when I took courses in mechanical engineering, in a lot of those courses I was the only woman in the class."

When she got to Langley, it was more of the same.

"This Commercial Aviation Safety Team has a sub team that does data analysis," she said. "When I started in 2001, I was the only woman on the team. Now, we probably have 10 women on the team."

There was pressure to do more to prove herself, even if that pressure came from within. And there was the inevitable question, which she laughs off now. "A couple of years ago, I had a contractor, bless his heart, say to me, 'did you get your job as an affirmative action position?' " Jones said. "I said 'no, I went to graduate school.' "

Away from Langley, "I'm a puzzle person," Jones said. "And I love movies. My ideal vacation would be to go to a movie festival."

She enjoys music – Jones worked at a music store in her youth -- and most of all, she enjoys children Alexandra, 10; and Andrew, 8.

Life is different now. Where once, there were few role models among African-American women engineers, there are more now. Sharon Monica Jones is one, and on February 17, she will have an award to recognize it.

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