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The NASA Engineering Network Builds Agency-Wide Connections

By Ann Bernath, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

The NASA Engineering Network (NEN) Website, available within the NASA firewall, provides many features to help engineers discover contacts and experts at all locations within NASA. The Organization Charts tool provides a resource for discovering who is responsible for engineering at each NASA Center. Using an integrated employee lookup feature, pulling details from the NASA Directory as well as NEN’s user profiles, engineers can discover more information about each individual without leaving the chart display. Within each discipline-specific Community of Practice, such as Avionics, Guidance, Navigation, and Control, and Structures, to name only a few, engineers can access contact and member lists to find others with particular areas of expertise. User profile photos allow engineers to put faces to names. Also, an Employee Locator integrated into NEN’s search capability locates NASA employees using the NASA Directory.

As Cynthia Null of Ames Research Center (and the NASA Technical Fellow for Human Factors) explains, NASA needs “to put the best minds on the problem and the best minds are spread out all over the Agency.” Lorraine Fesq of JPL (and Fault Management community leader) concurs. “We were desperate for a way to reach out and connect to other practitioners in the field from other Centers.” Designed to bring engineers together, the NEN provides discipline-specific communities of practice, organization charts, user profiles, and employee locators to help engineers reach out and connect with their NASA peers.

Making Connections Improves Engineering Disciplines

Engineers can keep connections current by making direct connections with peers and sharing expertise with others by joining a Community of Practice. Join this Community keeps members abreast of important technical information, news, and discipline-specific events. The Fault Management community recently collaborated to define key terminology within their discipline. Human Factors added a Spotlight feature to their Community of Practice to highlight individual members. Engineers can also contribute to the resources on the NEN site and become subject-matter experts themselves to help expand the knowledge base of engineering disciplines at NASA.

Seeking advice from and sharing knowledge with others can also be achieved using Ask an Expert. Engineers can submit questions to a particular community’s vetted, subjectmatter experts and can expect to see one or more responses within a few days. One engineer, for example, submitted a question to experts within the Avionics Community and received nine responses from experts at GRC, GSFC, JSC, and his own Center - MSFC. All questions and answers are archived and available for other engineers to reference.

Improving User Engagement

This year, NEN plans to enhance the site’s capabilities to allow engineers to post events, resources, assets, and documents directly. The site improvement will also give users the ability to provide comments and to rate information posted to the site by others, enhancing the connections among participants.

NASA Engineers no longer need to face challenges alone. While taking advantage of resources such as Lessons Learned and a 40-repository, 3 million asset search capability, an engineer from any Center can seek out and connect with others at NASA, find experts, share their knowledge and expertise, and participate in an Agency-wide community using the NASA Engineering Network. Visit https://nen.nasa.gov.