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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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!”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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”.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Marci Possner has been with a.i. solutions since August of 2010 and is currently a Program Manager for the company’s Mission Services Division where she manages projects which deal with ground systems for the Space Network, which is a constellation of geosynchronous communication satellites called the Tracking Data Relay Satellites (TDRS). Marci has been interested in space since high school and perhaps even prior to. She gravitated towards math and science entering college. She even wrote English reports of science fiction novels by her favorite authors, such as Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. A career in a STEM field was never out of reach for Marci as a woman, as her mother was in a STEM field (statistics), which she believes spoke powerfully to the importance of having a female role model for women in STEM.
“As a project manager, I spend a significant portion of my time interfacing with customers and team members in meetings and discussions. Although I’m not in the nitty gritty of the technical details anymore, being able to understand and speak the language is critical to my being able to communicate effectively. Organizational skills and attention to detail are also very important. There’s a lot of information to keep track of on a day-to-day basis, and it’s essential for me to always be aware of what our customers need and how we’re going to achieve those goals.”
“I’m optimistic that the number of women entering STEM fields will continue to increase, due to the growing presence of female role models and the continued encouragement from both men and women to have women in these fields.”
“I recommend getting involved in any STEM activities that interest you. More than any particular activity, participating in STEM activities will help you learn valuable skills that will be broadly applicable irrespective of the specific field you end up pursuing.”
“Be confident in your abilities! And, don’t let the lack of women in the room deter you from pursuing your passion.”