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Karen Yuen
Picture of Karen Yuen
Karen Yuen
Product Delivery Manager, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
"I believe you only live once and should live it fully. I love being outside and anything outdoors would be great. I like to fly helicopters and I just got PADI certified for diving!"

Where are you from?
I am originally from Kowloon, Hong Kong and moved to Apple Valley, Minn. when I was 8 1/2 years old. I still consider myself from the Midwest.

"I remember hearing the expression,
'Well I am not a rocket scientist!'
and I wondered, 'What is a rocket scientist?'
So I read what I could find about space."
Karen Yuen
Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.
I remember learning English and hearing the expression, "Well I am not a rocket scientist!" and I wondered, "What is a rocket scientist?" A lot of the time, they didn't know what to do with me in school, and they just asked me to go to the library to improve my reading skills. So I read what I could find about space.

How did you end up working in the space program?
I am an organic chemist who left research, who then worked as a category analyst for a food broker and Tropicana. I think the space program is the only place for people with funky backgrounds! There is definitely not a "one size fits all."

Who inspired you?
My grandma. She always believed in me and encouraged me in my education.

What is a Product Delivery Manager?
I am responsible for planning and implementing the successful delivery of a defined set of products and services to my projects. In my case, it happens to pertain to education and outreach (EPO) - how can I share with the world how cool my projects and NASA are! I wear multiple hats on this job (and that's the way I like it) that includes everything from negotiating budgets, to managing people from cross disciplines, to creatively coming up with what we will develop and produce,visiting schools, web and social media, all in all so we would solidly contribute to the overall NASA EPO effort.

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.
After a talk I gave locally, I got a letter from a student who told me that he knew what he wanted to do when he grew up -- he wanted to be a NASA engineer and that I had inspired him. I was so touched that I was shaking while reading the letter.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?
I say go for it. Never lose your curiosity and desire to learn more, I believe that it makes you better at your job. Public engagement is very important, so know what you are talking about. And it is fun -- think what would you want others to know more about and how, then go do it.

What do you do for fun?
I believe you only live once and should live it fully. I love being outside and anything outdoors would be great. I like to fly helicopters and I just got PADI certified for diving! But when I am indoors, I always curl up with a book or I am in the kitchen cooking. I love cooking for others!

If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?
Don't be afraid of math and science courses, and ask the questions -- more than likely, others don't know and are afraid to ask themselves. I was a late bloomer, I never liked math until I got to calculus and then the light bulb moment happened. It has been that way ever since.

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Last Updated: 3 January 2013

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Last Updated: 3 Jan 2013