As women, we often have an impossibly narrow line to tread. You should smile more. You’re too bubbly. Why don’t you stand up for yourself? You’re too loud. You’re too girly. You don’t look like an engineer. Try not to draw so much attention to yourself. Don’t wear dresses or no one will take you seriously. You’re bossy. You’re too emotional. You’re a pushover. You probably intimidate him. You only got the job because you’re a woman.
You get the point. The list of contradicting expectations society has laid out for us is limitless and I sometimes feel like I’ve heard them all. The words are discouraging, frustrating, they leave us angry and often feeling powerless to do the “right” thing on our quest for a successful and meaningful career.
I was recently and unexpectedly reminded in a similar fashion to the stark examples above precisely why I set forth on a mission to begin blogging. I am passionate about building a community for women to see that whoever they are or choose to be, there is a place for them to thrive and succeed in engineering and other STEM fields traditionally dominated by those that might not look quite like them.
I wanted my first “health and beauty” post on my page to highlight one seemingly small yet for me, not insignificant, way in which I reinforce for myself the idea of staying true to who I am. I first spoke to Melissa (IG @melissaivanic) at Estilo Salon and Spa in Houston, TX earlier this year. She really believed in my mission and wanted to help me show others that being a professional, career driven woman and taking care of your hair do not need to be mutually exclusive. I’ve always been into high-end fashion and beauty products, but my hair and how I care for it are often somewhat of an afterthought. After an initial consultation, I put together a Pinterest board of hair “inspiration”-the hair I’d always dreamed of having but never thought I could attain.
Estilo is a quaint but trendy salon nestled just southwest of Downtown in the Montrose area. Its intimate atmosphere makes it the perfect place to settle in for a day of self-care complete with a latte or glass of wine, get a little talk therapy in with your stylist (ha!), and walk away feeling glamorous, beautiful and confident at the end of it all. I got my first balayage during the thick of summer so Melissa created sun-kissed waves that left me looking like I’d spent all of July sipping margaritas poolside. I was always worried about coloring my hair because the streaky highlights of the past did not grow out well. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my color stayed beautiful and vibrant for the four months between appointments. Melissa recently transitioned my color for fall by deepening the blonde ever-so slightly and adding more of an ashy tone. She also added a conditioning treatment which left my hair impossibly soft and bouncy. I love the end result and yes, #ILookLikeanEngineer.
Estilo has a lot of great deals on services and products going on over the holidays but it is their busiest time of year so if you’re interested in freshening up your look before your upcoming holiday parties be sure to call and get something scheduled sooner rather than later! You can book with Melissa by sending her a DM on Instagram or calling the salon.
My all-time favorite go-to healthy meals come from Olympic long-distance runner Shalane Flanagan and nutrition coach Elyse Kopecky’s book Run Fast. Eat Slow. It’s chock full of recipes perfect for runners or anyone wanting delicious, made from scratch meals that don’t take much brain power but are sure to keep you on track with any healthy lifestyle goal.
Go to any supermarket and you will be hard-pressed to find a granola or cereal recipe that isn’t laden with sugar as one of the main ingredients. The honey in this recipe does add some sugar, but not the white processed kind that does nothing good for our bodies. If you’re working out, it’s important to get some natural sugar and carbs into your diet in order to sustain yourself and recover after those grueling workouts. I also love the rich, warm fall taste that the ginger, cinnamon, and molasses add to this recipe. I generally stick to the recipe pretty closely, however, feel free to mix things up with different dried fruits, nuts, seeds, etc! I love to eat mine as a snack or for breakfast over 2% Greek yogurt with fresh berries or just a small serving on its own with unsweetened vanilla almond milk.
Ginger-Molasses Granola Recipe (Credit: Run Fast. Eat Slow. by Shalane Flanagan & Elyse Kopecky)
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (gluten-free if sensitive)
1 cup finely shredded unsweetened dried coconut
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raisins or chopped dried fruit
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses (darkest variety, which has a stronger flavor and more minerals than regular molasses)
Position rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 275°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the oats, coconut, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, raisins or dried fruit, ginger, cinnamon and salt.
In a small microwavable bowl, stir together the coconut oil, honey, and molasses and microwave on low until slightly melted. Or melt in a small saucepan over low heat. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir until evenly combined.
Spread out in a thick layer on the baking sheet. Bake, gently stirring every 15 minutes, until lightly browned, 45 minutes. Granola will still be moist at the end of baking, but will morph into crunchy goodness once it cools completely.
Store in a glass jar with lid at room temperature. Granola will stay fresh for several weeks and likely be devoured long before expiring.
If there’s one place you’re almost certain to encounter an astronaut it’s NASA’ s Johnson Space Center. JSC is home to the astronaut corps and the people that select this elite group of men and women.
Throughout my time at NASA, both as a co-op during my college years and now as a full-time employee, I’ve had the opportunity to work and speak with current and former astronauts and even the very woman in charge of the astronaut selection process. Many people are surprised to find that the basic requirements to apply are fairly straightforward.
All astronauts can be lumped into two categories: pilot or non-pilot. The following are a list of minimum requirements that must be met before applying. Click here for more information.
A Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science, or mathematics. Degrees in technology, psychology, nursing, aviation, social sciences, exercise physiology are considered non-qualifying.
At least 3 years of relevant, progressively responsible professional experience OR at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in a high performance jet aircraft (these are generally your military pilots who often happen to be graduates of a military test pilot school). Advanced degrees are desirable (and almost certainly increase your changes of being selected) and can be substituted for years of experience (Master’s degree=1 year of experience, Ph.D.=3 years of experience).
Ability to pass NASA’s long-duration astronaut physical which is very comprehensive and from what I’m told, often the largest hurdle to clear once a person has made it to the interview portion of the application process.
Interestingly, military helicopter pilots are considered non-pilot astronauts. Take Shane Kimbrough, Sunita (Suni) Williams, and Anne McClain as examples. Civilian applicants must apply during an open application period through USAJOBS (www.usajobs.gov) and active duty military members must submit applications both through this site and to their respective military service.
It may not come as a surprise that NASA looks for many of the same traits in its astronaut candidates that any employer values when interviewing candidates for a position. Leadership, teamwork, and good communication skills are all important to the selection committee. Current astronauts themselves sit on the selection board to provide insight into whether they believe an applicant is the right fit for the job. After all, they want to be sure to select people they’d have to work with (and tolerate!) for extended periods of 6 months to a year, or even more as we look towards Mars.
So what’s the secret?
Every astronaut I’ve ever spoken to for tips about being selected (namely Shane Kimbrough and Karen Nyberg) has had almost the same answer. Choose a career and hobbies that you love. Every astronaut I’ve come across will tell you that they are extremely lucky to have been selected. NASA is not seeking a group of people looking to check boxes off a list of requirements, but rather those who are passionate about what they do. Do not get an engineering degree, join the military, or get a pilot’s license solely for the purpose of boosting your resume for the astronaut program. This is likely to lead to a lifetime of unhappiness. I am of the opinion that passion is what makes you the best at what you do. This is why the list of requirements seems so simple and attainable-there is no ideal person for this job. NASA wants a passionate and diverse group in order to build the best team for its missions. NASA currently has 38 active astronauts. The chances of being selected, especially on a first attempt, are not impossible but the chances are not immediately stacked in your favor. NASA wants people who, although obviously disappointed, are so passionate about what they do they would be happy in the careers they’re currently in whether they were to be selected or not. In fact, people often apply many times before they are selected. Clayton Anderson was rejected 14 times before finally being selected in 1998.
Applications for the Astronaut Candidate Program typically open about every 4 years these days. It is reasonable to assume the next call for applications will occur sometime around 2021. I’m definitely applying next time they open up, will you?!
A friend recently
sent me an article about a former NASA intern
who shut down a guy on dating app Hinge after he insulted her intelligence. In
response to her prompt that the dorkiest thing about her was that she worked at
NASA, he followed with “So what are you, the receptionist? Jk, you look
reasonably smart.” She proceeded to serve him some wisdom:
Initially this infuriated me because this sort of response is something that is not foreign to me. As a female navigating a field dominated by men, I’ve encountered my fair share of stereotypes and biases. On my first internship during my undergraduate studies, I remember the receptionist telling me I was too bubbly to be an engineer. Although I’m sure it wasn’t her intention to insult me and I certainly didn’t take particular offense to the comment, it really made me think about what the all male staff in the office thought about my abilities as an engineer.
In my final year of undergrad, I interviewed several engineering students for a research paper focused retention of engineering students, particularly women. One of my close friends revealed to me for the first time that on several of her internships she often dressed in baggy, masculine clothing so as not to stand out. When she told me this, my heart broke a little bit. For all the times that I’d felt out of place in the classroom because I was too girly, or too loud, too bubbly, I suddenly recognized that I wasn’t the only one. Sadly, however, this isn’t a product of engineering, or of being a woman, it is a product of our society deciding for us what we ought to look like, sound like, who we should be if we choose a particular field of work. Our career and our job title are just that-titles. They do not define who we are, but what we do for 40 hours every week. The hashtag #ILookLikeanEngineer is a reminder that we can dress, talk, look, and sound how we want and we all deserve to be respected in the fields in which we work. We all look like engineers.
When I started my studies as an engineering student at RIT, I had no idea what engineers did, just that I wanted to be one so that I could score my dream job at NASA. When I speak at outreach events I often get asked by young people, “What does your average day at work look like?” So, as I celebrate my one year work-iversary, what better way to explain than to run through my average day at work as I’ve experienced it over the last year?
I currently work at NASA Johnson Space Center in the Aircraft Operations Division’s Engineering Branch. We provide sustaining engineering support and upgrades to JSC’s fleet of more than 25 aircraft which support astronaut Spaceflight Readiness Training, fly airborne science missions all over the world, and provide direct return services to our astronauts when they land back on Earth from the International Space Station. I wanted to give you a (very) small glimpse into what a typical day might look like for an engineer working in my field.
8:00: I generally arrive at work between 7 and 8 a.m. depending on what’s planned for the day. I start by catching up on e-mails and checking in with the Gulfstream mechanics to see if they have any questions pertaining to ongoing tasks I may have requested them to work on through an Engineering Work Order
9:00: On Wednesday mornings our Gulfstream team of engineers, pilots, maintenance, and the program manager gets together to discuss the status of the program. This is an opportunity to get everyone on the same page with the schedule and status of both our GIII and GV jets.
Background: Our Gulfstream GV
has recently returned from Georgia where it was modified to include two large
cutouts in the bottom of the aircraft. Two fused silica optical glass windows
will soon be installed in the nadir viewports to better serve our Airborne
I’ve been designated as the GV Window Systems Engineer. In this role I am responsible for ensuring our windows are cleaned, handled, and maintained properly. This is an important task as each of these windows costs upwards of $25,000 and take approximately 8 weeks to manufacture. In this role I am also responsible for using fracture mechanics principles to ensure that the proper time to failure of the window has been calculated to keep our aircrew and customers safe during science flights. If damage is discovered on the windows, I am responsible for providing engineering disposition. I love that I am able to apply some of the concepts I learned in graduate school to my job and doing so has helped to build self-confidence in my technical abilities as they relate to engineering.
10:00: Although we have the option to use other materials (stretched acrylic has recently been found to have fantastic optical quality while being lighter, more cost effective, and easier to maintain), our first customer has chosen to utilize fused silica. This material has great optical clarity but is highly susceptible to damage and static fatigue. After receiving a piece of glass, we perform a “receiving inspection” to ensure no damage is present and to check that the manufacturer has provided us with a piece of glass that meets the specifications we requested on the order.
of the first projects assigned to me upon starting full-time at NASA was to get
both Gulfstream aircraft ready to support the Commercial Crew Program by
providing capability to transport up to four astronauts directly from their
spacecraft’s landing site back to Houston. It’s important to get them back as
quickly as possible so that valuable science data isn’t lost.
Commercial Crew office coordinates with Commercial Crew partners Boeing and
SpaceX who will soon launch astronauts to the International Space Station from
the U.S. These upcoming launches are exciting because they will be the first
time we have launched Americans to the ISS from U.S. soil since the Space
Shuttle was retired in 2011.
12:00: I hold a CDR (Critical Design Review) to get buyoff from both the customer (Commercial Crew Program) and important Aircraft Operations Division and Engineering Branch management to ensure they are comfortable moving forward with my designs. If any action items or safety concerns are brought up by attendees at the meeting, it will be my responsibility to make any necessary changes to the design in order to receive final approval to modify the aircraft. These design reviews are reminiscent of the design reviews I was responsible for holding during Senior Design class in undergrad. I must walk management through the customer requirements and how I plan to meet them, my design and what I plan to modify on the aircraft, complete a risk analysis that the safety engineers must sign off on, and my projected budget and schedule as well as maintenance impacts.
1:00: I head out to the hangar to meet the vendor that will be installing carpet in the aircraft for my Commercial Crew aircraft modification project. I pick the carpet color and discuss where they will need to cut the carpet in order to accommodate existing seating as well as equipment I will be adding for my project. I’m a very hands-on person so one of my favorite parts of this job is that I can go out to the hangar, get on the airplane, and check measurements or whatever else I need to see in order to better complete my project.
3:00: At CDR, 90% of the design must be complete. I have two aircraft installation drawings to complete so that it is clear for the mechanics where the beds and oxygen tanks I have included in my design should be installed in the aircraft. I work on these drawings using Creo which is a 3D modeling software. Most mechanical engineers learn some sort of CAD software as a part of their undergraduate curriculum. Don’t worry if your employer utilizes a different software from the one you learned in school. Many jobs will either provide or send you to training, or give you the time to learn how to use it on the job.
This is just a snapshot of a typical day at work for me. I love that I have the freedom to work on different tasks within a day so that I am never bored or stuck doing one thing. I thoroughly enjoy the hands-on nature of my work and the fact that I am surrounded by aircraft on a daily basis. This is just one example of the many exciting career paths available to engineers today. Keep checking back to connect and learn more about me as I update the site with more stories, resources, and support to help you confidently thrive in the world of STEM.
I often get asked if you need a Master’s degree to XYZ (i.e. become an astronaut, work for NASA, be a respected, successful engineer, you name it). My answer is generally no, you do not NEED it but I always follow it with an important caveat. I think getting an advanced degree can be incredibly beneficial for several reasons. Here are my top four:
It’s an investment. Grad school was an incredible investment I made in myself. There was not a single day that passed during those two years where I didn’t question my decision because the process was extremely challenging. When I start to feel discouraged I remind myself that the things most worth having in life seldom come easy. Life’s biggest struggles often produce the best results-stick with it!
You’ll grow your self-confidence. Although I learned many important lessons throughout grad school, most importantly I would argue, is that I learned an invaluable lesson in self-confidence both as a woman and an engineer. Yes there were days where I experienced imposter syndrome (more on that in a separate blog post), but the amount of pride I felt in knowing that I succeeded through the struggle is one of my life’s proudest moments. I emerged with the knowledge that I had learned to think critically and developed an ability to solve problems independently.
It allows you to focus your interests. Although I had taken a couple of aerospace classes over the course of my undergraduate education, I chose to focus my efforts on the general field of mechanical engineering for my bachelor’s degree. I had my sights set on a career in aviation/space from the beginning but kept in mind that my interests may shift down the road. Grad school gave me the opportunity to finally narrow in on the aerospace field in a more specialized way with the security that I could market myself to businesses in aviation, oil and gas, automotive, robotics, healthcare, etc if my interests or career opportunities shifted.
It sets you apart from your peers. According to the 2015 U.S. Census*, only 12% of the population over the age of 25 holds an advanced degree. Due to the pretty widely understood rigor of graduate school, you’ll likely emerge an “expert” in at least one specialized area and can use that to better market yourself to an employer. Not to mention that individuals with an advanced degree can often negotiate a higher starting salary and will earn more in their lifetime.
Have questions about graduate school? Leave me a message and I’ll do my best to answer it!
I went TDY (“temporary duty”-government speak for work travel) to Seattle last September for 2 weeks to take Boeing’s Structural Repair for Engineers course (more on that later) and quickly fell in love with this hipster Pacific Northwest city. I was told I visited during the least rainy part of the year (which generally runs from about May-September) and the crisp fall weather was widely welcomed by this North Dakotan native turned Houstonian. The trees were just beginning to change to fiery shades of orange, yellow, and red and if you’re a runner like me, the temperatures were just right for some incredibly scenic outdoor runs along the water.
I established one of my best travel tips on this trip. Based on recommendations and my own research, as well as discoveries I make during the trip, I update and maintain a Yelp Collection for each city I visit. This way I have a pre-curated list of highly rated suggestions for sightseeing, food and drink and, of course, a list of must-dos and must-do agains if I get the chance to venture back. I’m sharing my favorite things I saw, did, and perhaps most importantly, ate, during this trip.
Eat & Drink
Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (1124 Pike St). An incredibly beautiful building inside and out, this is a Starbucks lover’s dream. Complete with a large collection of gift items, a mixology bar, roasting area which you can view through a window in the restrooms (WHAAAT?!), and Italian bakery, it is easy to see why I visited not once, but twice. I highly recommend heading to the Experience Bar for a Cold Brew Malt (!!) and the Whiskey Barrel-Aged Cold Brew!
TNT Taqueria (2114 N 45th St). This place looks like a hole in the wall but don’t be fooled as we all know looks can be deceiving. I topped off my meal of some of the best tacos I’ve ever eaten (besides the street tacos consumed on a trip to Mexico City) with a couple hot, made-to-order churros. Incredibly delicious and inexpensive, my Cuban co-worker proclaimed these to be some of the best tacos he’s ever eaten.
Bar Ciudad (1210 S Bailey St). I didn’t eat here but came for happy hour to celebrate the end of our 6 hour exam to finish out the 2 weeks of class. I sat in the courtyard and enjoyed a couple of delicious spiked slushies as, much to my delight, jumbo jets flew directly overhead into nearby Boeing Field.
Fran’s Chocolates (5900 Airport Way S, multiple locations). Arguably the best salted caramel chocolates I’ve ever tasted. A friendly salesperson greets you at the door with a tray of their signature caramels. These make a great gift and their goodies come wrapped up in beautiful packaging complete with a satin bow.
Barnacle (4743 Ballard Ave NW) and Percy’s & Co. (5233 Ballard Ave NW). Although a bit north of town, I met up with a couple friends for delicious craft cocktails in Ballard. Barnacle is an Italian aperitivo bar with a playful, upscale nautical vibe. At Percy’s I opted for the “Honey Bee” which includes rosemary infused gin and lavender.
Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream (4822 Rainier Ave S, multiple locations). Although they have some more traditional ice cream flavors, Molly Moon’s also serves up a wide variety of unique and seasonal flavors for the more adventurous like Rose Milk Tea and delicious homemade waffle cones that make the whole place smell incredible.
See & Do
Chihuly Garden & Glass (305 Harrison St) and the Space Needle (400 Broad St). Home to a large collection of Dale Chihuly’s incredible blown glass art, this was definitely a highlight of the trip. I suggest buying a combined ticket for Chihuly and the Space Needle which is right next door and will allow you to see both at a discount. I visited Chihuly first because it closes earlier and then ventured to the Space Needle in time for incredible views of Seattle as day turned into night.
Pike Place Market (85 Pike St). Whatever you do, do not expect to drive directly into Pike Place Market as you will waste an asinine amount of time trying to maneuver through crowds of people (luckily I did not fall victim to this). The expansive, iconic (est. 1907) market where you can see flying fish, get incredibly gorgeous bouquets of fresh flowers for $5-$10, and enjoy a wide variety of delicious food. This is also home to the original Starbucks Coffee.
Gas Works Park (2101 N Northlake Way). Although quite windy the day I visited, this park offers a big hill overlooking Lake Union with great views of Seattle and the Space Needle. The perfect place for a picnic or to relive your childhood with a belly-laugh inducing roll down the hill.
The Museum of Flight (9404 E Marginal Way S). Located at the southern end of Boeing Field, this is the largest privately-owned air and space museum in the world. I spent over 5 hours in this museum which is home to more than 175 aircraft and spacecraft and definitely didn’t get to see everything. A must-see for aviation/space enthusiasts!
Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park (1201 Lake Washington Blvd N, Renton). Because I stayed in the Renton area, this park along Lake Washington was the perfect place to enjoy the sunshine after work with a run. I was able to run 10 miles on a trail that led me past the Seahawk’s training facility, Renton Municipal Airport, a Boeing facility, and the Cedar River. I also caught a glimpse of Mt. Rainier on a clear evening as the sun was setting.
On My Bucket List for Next Time
Hiking: Because I was in class during the week, I only had one weekend free to hike. It rained a bit too much and was going to be incredibly muddy (and I don’t own hiking shoes) so I passed on that in favor of exploring Pike Place Market. Hiking to see views of Mt. Rainier is definitely on the top of my Seattle bucket list for next time.
Donuts: General Porpoise Donuts, Top Pot Doughnuts
So, it probably seems like I packed a lot in considering I was supposed to be working, right? The truth is that I wanted to make the most of my 2 weeks in Seattle so I did do a lot in the evenings and over the weekend. However, the absolute highlight of the trip was undoubtedly the reason I was there in the first place. I spent about 8 hours a day in class learning and practicing how to perform structural repairs to aircraft. This was the first in a three-part course aimed at teaching engineers everything about the basics of aircraft repair from fastener (bolt and rivet) allowables and the best materials to use depending on which part of the aircraft you’re dealing with, to skin friction drag and fastener spacing requirements. At the end of the first week they even bused us to Everett, WA (home to Boeing’s massive aircraft production facility outside Seattle) where we got to see every stage of the aircraft assembly process from the mighty 747 to the innovative 787 Dreamliner. The following two courses focus on more advanced topics and I hope to take those in the future.
If you’ve ever been to Seattle or the Pacific Northwest or are a Seattle native yourself, what is your one must-see place to visit?