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STEM WOMEN

OF SPACE

At a.i. solutions, we are committed to empowering our employees, who consistently provide SPOT ON performance for our customers. A large part of our workforce consists of hard-working, dedicated women who inspire the next generation of female engineers and explorers, each and every day. The importance of encouraging young women to join science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, is greater than ever. At the rate the Aerospace Engineering and Manufacturing Industry is currently growing, there is and will continue to be a major need for a highly-skilled and qualified workforce.

Throughout the year, the women of a.i. solutions are eager to share their stories and experiences that have led them to where they are today. We hope you follow along with us on this journey in spreading inspiration and encouragement to the future workforce of our industry.

Meet Jennifer White

Jennifer White is a Flight Dynamics Engineer for Landsat 8, a polar orbiting weather satellite, in the Missions Operations Center at Goddard Space Flight Center. Jennifer has been with a.i. solutions since November 2017. She, along with her teammates, ensures the safety of the spacecraft by determining where it is in its orbit on a daily basis. Jennifer has always had interest in math and science and until she was a freshman in high school, she wanted to be a zoologist. Her interest in space was sparked by the movie “Apollo 13”. It inspired her by allowing her to realize that she wanted to be a part of a team that could pull together such an amazing accomplishment under the harshest of conditions. Both Aerospace Engineer and Astronaut became her “What I want to be when I grow up”.

What are some of your daily responsibilities and basic skillsets used within your position?

“In addition to verifying the orbit of the spacecraft each day, I use software to help calculate potential maneuver possibilities. This requires analysis and problem solving skills. Even though the physics for determining the orbit is always the same, the effects of space weather when propagating the orbit forward in time plays a very impactful role that needs to be accounted for. I also use programming skills to understand existing computer programs and scripts and to create my own to help solve problems.”

Where do you see the trend heading for women entering STEM fields over the next 5 years and why?

“I believe that it will continue to become easier for women to go into STEM fields. There are so many programs and so many women in STEM helping to work to increase overall awareness. From the many new engineering toys being designed for girls to the powerful women becoming successful entrepreneurs and CEOs, there is increased exposure to what women can do. I see a bright outlook for more girls and women to explore whatever their interests may be and become hugely successful.”

What extra-curricular activities outside the classroom would you recommend to further a student’s interest and education in STEM fields?

“Any extracurricular activities can prepare you for a career in STEM. If you are passionate about something, you will give it your all to succeed, and that will benefit you greatly. Taking on leadership roles in anything will help you learn how to work with a variety of people who may or may not agree with you. Participating in multiple activities will help you with time management skills. Groups, sports and clubs outside of the STEM fields will allow you to develop communication skills with people who may not be as technically minded as you while participating in STEM related activities will help you develop your technical skills. Be on the lookout for internships in your area of interest, and try to do as many as you can. Networking is incredibly beneficial for future opportunities.”

What is your advice to women students trying to enter STEM fields?

“Figure out what interests you and do whatever you can to further your education in that direction. Read books and articles, join clubs, pursue internships and grant opportunities (NASA and the NSF have a variety of these at all education levels). Understand that people may not always be supportive, but if it’s something you want, keep going and prove them wrong.”

Meet Susan Good

Susan Good has been with a.i. solutions since July 1998—almost 20 years! She is a Senior Systems Engineer and currently the Task Lead for the Earth Science Mission Operations Flight Dynamics team at NASA GSFC, where the company provides flight dynamics operations and analysis support for the three Earth observing spacecraft: Aqua, Aura, and Terra. About a year after high school, Susan decided to pursue higher education and started taking college courses locally via the University of Virginia division of continuing education program. She was inspired by her calculus professor to pursue a degree in Physics at Mary Washington University. Her professor taught her how mathematics explained the physical world we live in. She was hooked from that moment on.

What are some of your daily responsibilities and basic skillsets used within your position?

“As the task lead I am responsible for ensuring that all the required task work is completed successfully and is of superior quality. Our task provides daily operations, analysis, maneuver planning, and risk mitigation maneuver planning. We also provide software support including development and testing. On a day-to-day basis, I attend a lot of meetings. I work with multiple GSFC customers to ensure we are always meeting their needs. I lead the weekly customer status meetings and provide monthly task reports. Communication skills are critical, as are technical skills. I draw on my technical skills and experience to make decisions and mentor team personnel. I have written operations concepts, developed procedures, and verified flight dynamics systems for mission support. I have provided launch and early orbit support for multiple missions as the flight dynamics lead, and performed maneuver design, analysis, and routine operations for many others. I have also generated vehicle performance estimates and reviewed and verified launch contractor-provided analyses to ensure launch vehicle requirements are met.”

Where do you see the trend heading for women entering STEM fields over the next 5 years and why?

“I don’t really have any perception of a STEM ‘trend.’ I never felt that any field or position was out of my reach when I entered the workforce; there were always many women in engineering and management positions at NASA GSFC, even 30 years ago.”

What extra-curricular activities outside the classroom would you recommend to further a student’s interest and education in STEM fields?

“I would pursue whatever interests you, even if not specifically STEM-related. If you have opportunities to learn how to work as part of a team and/or learn leadership skills these will be invaluable, no matter what field you end up entering.”

What is your advice to women students trying to enter STEM fields?

“Pursue what interests you in school even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do post-graduation. This was my case. I would suggest that you seek out internships to make contacts and gain exposure to different types of work related to your studies and interests. Or look for volunteer opportunities. I always wished I had done this. It took a while, but I eventually did find that entry-level physics-degree position at NASA GSFC, doing flight dynamics, and have never looked back.”

Meet Jessica Kiser

Jessica Kiser is a Human Resources Business Partner and has been with a.i. solutions for more than 2 years. In her role, Jessica works on payroll, benefits and benefits administration, and all other HR-related reporting. Jessica has always had a passion for data and analytics, but was also very interested in the study of people—why people have the personalities that they have, and how they use those personalities to interact with others. Jessica has a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Relations, which gave her a perfect blend of being able to study the science of people while also giving her the opportunity to focus on statistics, math, and computer science.

What are some of your daily responsibilities and basic skillsets used within your position?

“My role is a little less traditional than the other STEM roles around a.i. solutions, but I often have to use my knowledge of queries and expressions when working on the back end of our HR Information System to pull reports and make updates. It can get very tedious sometimes, as one wrong letter or symbol will cause an error on the entire report, but it is always refreshing when getting the correct end results to provide to my team!”

Where do you see the trend heading for women entering STEM fields over the next 5 years and why?

“Women are underrepresented in STEM fields. I sincerely hope that this changes in the next 5 years as more women become interested in STEM fields and seek opportunities in these areas.”

What extra-curricular activities outside the classroom would you recommend to further a student’s interest and education in STEM fields?

“If you’re interested in technology, Women Who Code is a great group that helps women learn coding at any experience level (which is extremely helpful if you’re a beginner). There are sessions on HTML, Python, JavaScript, and so much more. The group is also not limited to students—I actually still go to sessions sometimes!”

What is your advice to women students trying to enter STEM fields?

“Most STEM fields are male-dominated, so you may not always be in a room with someone that looks like you, but don’t get discouraged! It’s always exciting to see women in STEM fields (even if you’re the only one).”

Meet Megan Johnson

Megan Johnson has been with a.i. solutions for almost 8 years. She started interning with the company in 2010 and began fulltime work in 2012 after graduating from the University of Maryland. Megan is a.i. solutions’ Conjunction Assessment Risk Analysis (CARA) Operations Lead. Her role on the CARA team includes managing real-time operations, working with new missions, and training internal and external personnel in Conjunction Assessment (CA).

Megan was interested in science and drawn to space at a young age. The extreme differences of astronomy as compared to Earth sciences have always captured her attention. She even went as far as to present the ‘History of Black Holes’ for Maryland History Day in middle school, looking for any loophole to study space. Overall, Megan had a very positive and encouraging childhood with regard to exploring her interests, which made her more confident when choosing a STEM field to pursue.

What are some of your daily responsibilities and basic skillsets used within your position?

“My daily responsibilities can vary day-by-day from working real-time operations or providing operations SME support, developing new mission material and documentation, managing the CARA operations team, or developing and presenting training material or other CARA-specific information.

Critical thinking and data analysis are necessary when performing real-time operations since we take a large amount of data and must determine whether a spacecraft should perform an avoidance maneuver. The consequences of a bad decision could potentially be loss of a mission, so making an informed decision is very important. Additionally, both written and oral communication and writing skills in general are important as I work with new missions and train new personnel.”

What extra-curricular activities outside the classroom would you recommend to further a student’s interest and education in STEM fields?

“Look for volunteering opportunities teaching kids STEM. There are many students who need help and by teaching others you can teach yourself both within STEM as well as communication and skills that are needed for mentoring. Through University of Maryland I joined the InnoWorks group which worked with local elementary and middle schools teaching STEM as an after-school activity.”

Where do you see the trend heading for women entering STEM fields over the next 5 years and why?

“With more women entering STEM fields in the last few years, I believe we will see more women promoted to higher positions as well as more women in STEM fields in general. This is in part because many women are no longer held back by stereotypes such as ‘women are bad at math’ that often lead to self-doubt in women and negative views from men. We are here to claim our space and it will be very exciting when we see women in STEM at 50% to mirror the population.”

What is your advice to women students trying to enter STEM fields?

“Be confident in yourself! I often thought I was behind other students in my classes, particularly male students, because they tended to be more outspoken. It took me all of college to realize that I was doing just as well if not better. These days I try to focus on myself and what I have accomplished rather than comparing myself to others.”

Meet Jordan Quallen

Jordan Quallen is Guidance, Navigation, and Control Engineer with the a.i. solutions Launch Services Division working with the Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Jordan started with the company in 2009 as an intern and converted to fulltime in 2013. Her role is to ensure that NASA’s science satellites are successfully integrated with their launch vehicle to provide the best chance for the spacecraft’s mission success. As a child, Jordan fell in love with Space and had very good math and physics teachers in high school that influenced her love for STEM—their excitement for the field was contagious.

What are some of your daily responsibilities and basic skillsets used within your position?

“I work with our spacecraft customers and launch vehicle providers to define requirements and follow the evolution of these requirements throughout the mission. I provide verification and validation of these requirements using system dynamics and control and modeling software like MATLAB and Simulink.”

Where do you see the trend heading for women entering STEM fields over the next 5 years and why?

“The atmosphere is changing, that’s for sure. It’s a slow change, but slow change is often what sticks. I’m hopeful for a time when women are not few and far between in highly technical or management positions. I see more and more young women being empowered to pursue careers in the technical fields and that’s great news of things to come!”

What extra-curricular activities outside the classroom would you recommend to further a student’s interest and education in STEM fields?

“There are so many clubs and programs out there, technical and otherwise. Learn how to speak in public, learn how to lead your peers, search out opportunities to grow your technical skills. Science is in so many activities! Look at the things you enjoy and learn the science behind it—make yourself think “How could it be improved?”, “Can everyone use it this way?”, and “Are the materials cost-effective?” Answering these types of questions are what engineering is all about!”

What is your advice to women students trying to enter STEM fields?

“Find your passion and pursue it. Don’t allow failures or bumps along the road to discourage you from following your dreams.”

Meet Mitra Farahmand

Mitra Farahmand is a senior system engineer working as a navigation analyst on the Magnetospheric Multiscale Spacecraft (MMS) and Restore-L projects. She has been at a.i. solutions since August 2012.

Her parents had a very positive influence on her to pursue science and engineering from an early age. Mitra recalls her dad reading her newspaper articles about the exciting discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics. Mitra’s mom encouraged her to study hard and strive to be her best.

What are some of your daily responsibilities and basic skillsets used within your position?

“On both of my projects, MMS and Restore-L, Goddard Enhanced Onboard Navigation System (GEONS) is used onboard spacecraft which primarily utilizes GPS signals to achieve accurate navigation solutions. The MMS mission has been in operation phase since March 2015. The four MMS spacecrafts are in a tetrahedron formation on a highly elliptical orbit. I am part of the team that monitors the spacecrafts’ navigation solutions. The Restore-L mission is set to perform in-orbit servicing on Landsat-7 satellite. On Restore-L, I am part of the team that carries navigation analyses and simulations to configure GEONS for flight. The key to be successful in aerospace engineering is to develop critical thinking and have the desire to understand and pursue complex topics in math and physics.”

What extra-curricular activities outside the classroom would you recommend to further a student’s interest and education in STEM fields?

“I am from Iran and the schools’ culture and curriculum are different from the U.S. Growing up, I studied hard at school and after school. I realize that there are many opportunities available to the students at U.S. schools to help build their skills. I encourage every student to join one of the science clubs available at their school and explore their potential beyond the textbooks.”

Where do you see the trend heading for women entering STEM fields over the next 5 years and why?

“I think more and more women are entering the STEM fields. It is an encouraging and exciting time. There are unlimited opportunities in STEM fields. Come join the team!”

What is your advice to women students trying to enter STEM fields?

“You do not have to be the smartest kid in the class to pursue the STEM fields. You just need to be committed and follow through with your studies. At school, ask questions from your teachers until you feel confident that you have understood the subject matter and its application. Work hard for the success of your school projects and be part of the team. This will prepare you to perform well at your future jobs. Stop Googling the answer to every question and start building critical thinking skills by studying through your textbooks.”

Meet Laquandis Baldwin

Laquandis Baldwin is a Systems Analyst working in the Quality, Safety and Mission Assurance (QS) group in support of ground and flight tests for the a.i. solutions Mission Assurance Division. As a graduate from Alabama A&M University in Computer Science, Laquandis’ curiosity of computers is what pushed her into a STEM field. Growing up she was always reminded that the way we do business and communicate would change in the future and that technology would be the driving force behind this change. She was always fascinated about different technologies and how everything worked, and how to take computers apart and then put them back together. The complexity of how software programs operated made her interested in computer code development and the execution of those programs for input and output.

What are some of your daily responsibilities and basic skillsets used within your position?

“Some of my skills are a lot of reading and some investigating. Working in Quality, we ensure that processes and procedures are being followed per the Missile Defense Agency guidance.”

What extra-curricular activities outside the classroom would you recommend to further a student’s interest and education in STEM fields?

“I would recommend getting involved in professional organizations such as National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), IEEE Women in Engineering, etc. Involvement in these organizations in your present and past collegiate years mold and prepare you for your professional career development. Also, many of these organizations offer conferences for career building practices that prepare you for job interviewing skills and assist you with your career path development.”

Where do you see the trend heading for women entering STEM fields over the next 5 years and why?

“I see a lot of women in leadership as well as more women business owners than we have seen in the past. Women are taking the lead and coming up with innovative ways to change the world as well as technology.”

What is your advice to women students trying to enter STEM fields?

“The technical environment is a male-dominated field. To help overcome this obstacle, try to interview as much as possible in order to obtain an internship. Interning lays the foundation for you to enter into your potential career path and can help you to develop professional exposure for your future.”

Meet Diane Davis, Ph.D.

Diane Davis is an Astrodynamicist and has been with a.i. solutions since December 2011. She works as a Principal Systems Engineer with the Deep Space Gateway trajectory design team at Johnson Space Center and also conducts research and development in multibody dynamics. Diane’s passion for STEM began as a child with her father, a former physics and biology teacher, who’d answer all her unending scientific questions as they worked in their garden. Throughout her schooling, Diane’s interest in physics and space grew and were encouraged by her teachers’ excitement and passion for this field of science. Diane was hooked on Space the moment she saw the stars through her telescope on the school football fields during a lesson about the constellations and astronomy.

What are some of your daily responsibilities and basic skillsets used within your position?

“My current position is very technical: I’m designing the maneuvers that will keep the Deep Space Gateway in orbit around the Moon or send it from one orbit to another. I write computer simulations using FreeFlyer and other software packages. I’m also developing, with my research partner, a custom design and visualization program for spacecraft under the influence of multiple bodies at once- the Earth and Moon, for example, or Jupiter and Europa.

On a daily basis I use my understanding of orbital mechanics—how bodies move around in space under the influence of various forces. I do my work with computers—I’m either scripting up my own simulations in FreeFlyer or MATLAB, or using dedicated astrodynamics programs like the Deep Space Trajectory Explorer or Copernicus.

Another vital skill for my job is communication. Whether I’m speaking to upper management about broad concepts, explaining technical details to colleagues, or writing and presenting conference papers, it’s incredibly important to be able to clearly explain my work, ideas, and conclusions.”

What extra-curricular activities outside the classroom would you recommend to further a student’s interest and education in STEM fields?

“Follow your own interests! I think we’re most successful when we’re doing things we’re excited about. Whether that’s performing arts, music, athletics, or a custom coding project, create something you care about.”

Where do you see the trend heading for women entering STEM fields over the next 5 years and why?

“I think a lot of barriers have come down already, after battles quietly (or otherwise) fought by previous generations of women. It’s clear we have some distance left to travel, but I see progress being made, and I think that barriers will continue to fall as it becomes more and more common for women and men to be working together to tackle STEM challenges.”

What is your advice to female students trying to enter STEM fields?

“Do what you love, find the field that catches your interest. STEM fields are increasingly accessible to everyone. Work hard, put in your best effort, and have fun.”

Meet Kara Crawley, CBCP, CEM, MEP

Kara Crawley has been an Emergency Management Specialist for 4 years at a.i. solutions and works side-by-side with NASA’s Emergency Management team in Washington, DC. Kara has always had a deep interest in science and how/why things work the way they do, but her greatest strengths were not in any STEM related fields. Kara was unsure about what career field she wanted to pursue while in school at the College of William and Mary and thought asking an 18 year old what she wanted to be was a lot before she experienced what the world has to offer. Kara majored in Government and Classical Civilization pursuing course work that sparked her interest. After college Kara pursued opportunities that carried the same interest and that used the skillsets in which she excelled. Her passion for public service led her to working for the Federal Government and now contributing to NASA’s mission and goals.

What are some of your daily responsibilities and basic skillsets used within your position?

“A lot of meetings. I also do a good deal of reading, writing, analysis, and correspondence. Problem solving, negotiation, and being flexible to changing priorities and/or environment are a big part of my day. The ability to work and collaborate in a team environment is huge.”

Where do you see the trend heading for women entering STEM fields over the next 5 years and why?

“The current administration seems to be placing a stronger emphasis on getting more women/girls in STEM fields. Hopefully some of their efforts will result in tangible progress. I’m hopeful that in the near future women in STEM fields is part of our norm.”

What extra-curricular activities outside the classroom would you recommend to further a student’s interest and education in STEM fields?

“I recommend seeking extra-curricular activities that you feel passionate about and those that make you feel your most authentic self, regardless of their perceived or actual relevance to your desired STEM field. When seeking new employees, I love to see a person who pursues extra-curricular activities that they are passionate about, are good at, and enjoy doing. I really appreciate when someone can apply a concept or make a practical application from another part of their life to the job at hand, even if the original activity doesn’t seem relevant at face value. Seek opportunities that build genuine character, and help you see problems from another perspective.”

What is your advice to female students trying to enter STEM fields?

“Seek guidance and advice, but don’t rely solely on other’s opinions about things that could impact your career trajectory, like a certain program, curriculum, internship, professor, grad school, etc. Trust yourself to make your own assessments based on the information you have. Know that you won’t always make the “perfect” or “right” decisions but know that it’s okay. Find value in the experience and commit to resiliency in any outcome.”