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Monica Hughes
Monica Hughes
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Monica Hughes, HIAD Flexible Systems Development (FSD) Manager
Credit: NASA

Where are you from?

I grew up in Vienna, WV. Graduated from Parkersburg High School and then Purdue University, with a bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering. While at Purdue, I co-op'd at NASA LaRC for 6 (alternating) semesters.

What motivated you to work for NASA?

Since I was 3 years old, I have wanted to be an astronaut. When I was 21 years old, I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, which is an automatic disqualifier. I needed to re-evaluate my career path and focus on something different. Being a co-op student was critical at this juncture of my life; it showed me that nearly everything about NASA is cool… not just the astronauts. So, co-op'ing helped me transition from one dream to another, gracefully.

Who inspired you?

For choosing a career: astronauts. I selected my university solely based on the fact that, at the time, they had graduated the most astronauts of any university/college in the country.

What is your role on HIAD, and what are your responsibilities?

I am currently the Flexible Systems Development (FSD) Manager on the HIAD team. Working with the FSD Principal Investigator, I manage the ground development team, by providing oversight and programmatic support and managing a multi-million dollar budget for the ground testing area of the inflatable aeroshell technology development effort.

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.

I don't know that I have one particular moment… I have thoroughly enjoyed just about every aspect of my career. And, I love that my daughters are proud of and excited about what I do.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?

My co-op'ing experience was probably the most influential experience in my career path. It helped me understand what engineering really was about. And, it confirmed my desire to want to work for NASA. So, my advice would be that to really gain an understanding in this field, you need to do some sort of interning or co-op'ing in a multitude of areas, so that you can gain experience with and insight about your soon-to-be-field.

In my experience since my career has started, I have taken many opportunities that have spanned both the air and space sides of the house. Everything I've worked on has been fun and rewarding. And, the work experience with different projects and different people has helped me to be a more productive and effective member of the NASA team, and helped prepare me for my current role as project manager. So, additional advice would be to take try to gain experiences that span several different walks of life at NASA.

What do you do for fun?

I am a full-time mom and wife outside of work. So, most of my spare time is centered around striving to be a good parent with my husband. Finding the balance between work and family, especially when both my husband and I work in high-responsibility jobs at NASA, is particularly challenging.

I enjoy watching our girls grow up and helping them evolve into good people who have a positive influence on others. For fun, I love playing with my girls and husband at the beach. I like to snorkel (especially with my family) and swim. And, I love to just hang out with my husband.
Hanging out with friends and extended family or relaxing with a good book are both things that I enjoy (but don't have as much time to do these days).

If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?

Don't give up. If this is something that you really want to do, buckle down and do the work. In 4 to 6 years, you will have the education to go out and do just about anything… including working on as many cool projects as I have. But, it takes a lot of work and sacrifice; you just need to be willing to plow through it for a few years. And, nobody is going to care if you get a “C” on any particular test, as long as you have an overall strong GPA, you'll be ok. If you have the opportunity to participate in programs such as the co-op program, take advantage of it. It may extend the duration of your time in college, but the experience you gain from it is significant and irreplaceable. And, it really helps you determine whether or not you have chosen the right field for you.