Every Great Adventure Begins with a Single Step

Welcome to my very first blog post! I’m so excited to get to know each other better as I share my story with you. As you can imagine, there’s a fairly large amount of vulnerability associated with starting a blog and sharing some of my most intimate thoughts and life highlights with you. Please bear with me as I newly navigate the blogging world!

I’d like to start with a little background on where my adventure begins, because I think the beginning is key to understanding who we are. I was born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota where I learned the values of working hard (I’ve had a job since I was 14, hellllo Krispy Kreme Doughnuts!) and being kind to everyone you meet (“North Dakota nice” is a real thing). I am incredibly proud of my hometown, however, I didn’t always feel that way. Growing up I always had a nagging sense that there was more for me somewhere else. I daydreamed of a future living in Hollywood as some glamourous movie star or spending my days in Houston training in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (aka, the NBL-this is the giant pool astronauts train in for spacewalks) as a NASA astronaut. While these don’t exactly seem like unique aspirations for an 8 year old, I was lucky because I grew up with parents who believed in my dreams as much as I did.

My sixth grade time capsule for the year 2010 along with a photo of me dressed as my biggest role model at the time, Sally Ride.

One summer night as a second grader, I stood in the driveway with my dad staring up at the night sky. I remember feeling awestruck, recognizing how small I was in relation to the rest of the universe. I was one human being living my very simple life as the rest of the universe ticked along. I wanted to understand how it all fit together. From that very moment I decided that I wanted a front row seat on mankind’s journey to discovery and I set my sights on a career at NASA. It became no secret throughout middle and high school that I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up and my zealous response to the question was always met with skepticism. How could a girl from North Dakota achieve something so unimaginable? I started to believe the doubters, but I didn’t give up.

DigiGirlz Camp at Microsoft Fargo, ~2007 (I’m on the right)

While growing up I never really had much exposure to engineering specific classes or career fields. (I did however attend DigiGirlz at the Microsoft campus in my hometown where my dad was a Software Engineer for many years. More info about the camp which is still being held in many cities all over the world, here.) So, how did I become a NASA engineer? As I mentioned, my parents always encouraged me to pursue what I was passionate about but I didn’t have any idea what it took to work at NASA.
I knew that becoming an astronaut might be a long-shot but I didn’t have any reservations about my ability to score what I believed to be the next best gig-a job as a NASA Mission Control Specialist (I must have been a very optimistic teenager!). As the time neared to apply to college, I began to investigate what it was Mission Control Specialists at NASA actually held degrees in. Most of the information I found pointed to an engineering degree. I wondered what engineers even did, but applied to a variety of engineering programs all over the country nonetheless.

Graduation Day at the Rochester Institute of Technology, May 2015

I had never lived anywhere but my relatively small hometown in North Dakota and although I was slightly terrified about the prospect of leaving behind everyone and everything I knew, I also saw an opportunity to push myself far beyond my comfort zone. I knew that moving far away would present many challenges but in order to grow as an individual and a student it was what I needed to do to make my dreams reality. I decided on the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) having never been to the East Coast. RIT has a highly renowned co-op program which allowed me to gain exposure and experience to the engineering field while developing my sense of self and confidence as a female engineer. It was here, in my second year that I interviewed for a co-op position with NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Throughout college, I was incredibly fortunate to also intern twice with GE Aviation, including a tour at their Flight Test Operation in the California desert and a summer as a congressional intern with the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space and Technology. I have always believed in the importance of diversifying your experiences. Not only will this allow you the chance to discover what you truly love to do and make you more well-rounded personally and professionally, I believe the process of discovering what you do not want to do is of equal value. My response when asked how I scored my dream job working for NASA so early on? I always had the end goal in sight and I never stopped long to listen to negativity from those who didn’t believe in me as strongly as I believed in myself. I knew I was in control of my destiny and I refused to listen to those who thought that somehow I would allow their beliefs about me to become my truth.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

“The Man in the Arena”, Theodore Roosevelt

I earned a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY) in 2015. When it came time to decide if I would begin my career with NASA or continue on with an advanced degree, I really struggled with what the “right” decision was. I knew that I wanted to pursue either a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and that it would be incredibly difficult to go back to school once I began working and earning a stable income. However, I couldn’t help but worry that if I turned down a job offer from NASA that I would forever miss my shot at what I had worked so hard for. Once again I was asking myself to face my fears and break out of my comfort zone. I couldn’t deny my gut instinct that kept nagging at me to continue on with school. Luckily, the group I wanted to continue working with at NASA was supportive of this personal goal and agreed to take me on as a graduate co-op student so that I knew there would likely be a place for me in the group once I returned from grad school. This experience taught me, in particular, to ask for the things you want. The answer will be “no” 100% of the times you are too afraid to ask the question.

Graduation Day at Georgia Tech, May 2018

I went on to earn a Master’s degree in aerospace engineering specializing in structures from Georgia Tech (Atlanta, GA). The experience tested me in many ways, but was the single best investment I have ever made in myself (more info on graduate school in an upcoming blog post). Through all this I have grown into a person who believes in the ability to make the unimaginable a reality and I believe you can too. Life is about taking chances and understanding that every great adventure begins with a single step. Ad astra and Godspeed on wherever your journey takes you.

Photo Credit: Kyle Sudu Photography

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