This profile has been adapted in part from an original interview conducted by Susan Niebur for the Woman in Planetary Science website. To read the full original interview click here.
Where are you from?
I was born in Idabel, Okla., but my family is from Houston, Texas and I have lived here since I was three months old. I have three brothers who grew up with me in the heights of Houston, and so I consider myself a native Houstonian. As such, I have grown up with all things NASA.
|"It is my job to preserve, protect and distribute |
the lunar rocks that were brought back
from the Moon by the Apollo missions ..."
Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.
My "ah ha" moment came when my brothers and I were young: My parents loaded us all into the car one summer and we traveled out West. I remember being in the desert surrounded by mountains on both sides with nothing for miles. My mother was telling us ghost stories and it was so dark outside that you couldn't see anything except for the stars. I can remember how incredibly amazing it was, I had never seen so many stars before, and they went on for miles and miles. Some of the stars were different colors and some seemed to twinkle, while others did not.
I watched the sky every night on that trip. I saw shooting stars, and I remember thinking that I saw some strange objects moving in the sky. And that was it, I had so many questions about the stars -- my mind was racing: How could there be so many? Why couldn't we see them from Houston? How far were they? How many of them were there? It was all those pesky questions that did it for me. I was hooked. I needed my questions answered! There was so much to know and discover and I was intrigued by what existed beyond my hometown of Houston.
How did you end up working in the space program?
While a freshman in college I applied for an internship and was chosen as a NASA Space Science Student Ambassador. This internship was hard work, but it was super fun! NASA Space Science Student Ambassadors consist of a group of college and high school students who are taught space science by scientists at NASA. Our job was to then go out into the community and share what NASA does by using activities that the public can related to, such as edible rocks (see Ares education link below).
My boss was really impressed by my work ethic and interest and offered me a full time position with the program as a coordinator. It was a great job. I was able to work with a program that understood the importance of my schooling and was therefore lenient with my time so that I could attend school full time. I continued with the Space Science Ambassadors for seven years and only left to go to graduate school (Louisiana State University in geology and geophysics).
When I returned home after graduate school, I got a job teaching geology at the University of Houston-Downtown, my undergraduate alma mater. During this time I learned about an opening at the Lunar Sample Laboratory, from my previous boss. They were looking for someone with a master's degree in geology, so I applied ... and as they say "the rest is history."
It was the training I received during my internship that led me to this job. I didn't even realize that this facility existed or that there was even a job where you got to work with rocks from the Moon prior to taking a tour of the lab as a NASA Space Science Student Ambassador. I knew the first time I learned about the lab that I wanted to work here. I am living my dream.
What is a Lunar Sample Processor?
It is my job to preserve, protect and distribute (for scientific and educational studies ) the lunar rocks that were brought back from the Moon by the Apollo missions, as well as maintain secure storage and proper handling of these samples for the benefit of future generations.
This is my dream job -- every day holds new discoveries. I get to open up a different lunar sample and look at it under the microscope. I get to see something every day that most people only get to read about in books. I get to be up close and personal with the building blocks of our Universe: the keys to our past, our present and our future. I also get to share what I do through outreach and other educational venues to encourage others to pursue their dreams in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.
My best memory is probably the first time that I walked into the Lunar Lab as an employee and realized that my dreams had just become a reality. I was working for NASA (!), a place that I wanted to work all my life, and in the lab that I had said I wanted to work in my very first summer in the NASA Space Science Student Ambassador Program.
Who inspired you?
My father. He was a super science geek. He was a mechanic by trade, but loved space science and all things NASA. My father would bring us to NASA open houses every year, take us to science museums' free events and he loved to just come and walk around the Johnson Space Center campus back when it was open to the public. Another fond memory I have is of my father taking my family and I to see the Space Shuttle being brought back to Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. My father's enthusiasm made me enthusiastic, and I found I had a true love for all things science too. Now I am a super science geek. He would love what I do -- he would be so proud.
I am also inspired every day by the endless research and discoveries that occur around me. I learn something new every day at work: Where else can you see and work with a piece of the Moon and get to meet the people who picked them up from the Moon's surface.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?
This is always a tough question for me. My path has varied along the way so much that the only real piece of advice I can give is for people to follow their hearts. I began as a biologist and chemist as an undergrad (I wanted to attend medical school and become a surgeon). However, the closer I came to medical school and devoting my life to working as a doctor the more I realized that I was more interested in learning about the workings of the Earth. I realized that I really had a passion for geology. (I wanted to be outside in the sunshine and play in the dirt.) People have asked me if I felt like I made a mistake, but the answer is always "no." It was a hard decision to turn down medical school, but it was the right choice. I love geology, I love getting my hands dirty. The truth is: if you love what you do, then you will succeed at it; there is no way you can fail, because it will always feel like fun!
My varied background has only made me a stronger, more well-rounded scientist. So, find something you love and stick with it. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do it. There will be obstacles along the way, but you will overcome them. If you are having a hard time pinning down what it is that you love, then do internships and volunteer. Try an internship in something you never imagined that you would be interested in, you will be surprised. School is a time for trial and error: use that time. Spending three months of a summer doing something you don't really like is much better than spending a lifetime.
What do you do for fun?
I have two wonderful dogs and three fabulous cats; they take up a lot of my time these days. Other than my family, I love to travel, go hiking and camping. I am an avid reader and I love to garden. I enjoy watching movies, and, we try to go to at least one museum a week.
If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?
The best advice I can give to any aspiring student is to stick with it. Through perseverance you can do anything and become any one that you desire. We sometimes put limits on what we can do, but there is no limit to what you can achieve if you apply yourself. No one can stop you but "you."
Last Updated: 1 May 2014
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