February 11, 2009Her job: Principal Optical Engineer, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I design optical instruments for spacecraft. Recently I spend the majority of my time working with astronomers studying stars and scientists who study weather and the earth to design instruments that measure important parameters for their models, for example, ozone content at different altitudes in the atmosphere.
Why did you choose engineering?
I chose engineering because I am good at math and science and enjoy understanding how things work, fixing broken things, and occasionally breaking things.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I hold a B.S. in Engineering Physics from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Optical Sciences from the University of Arizona's Optical Sciences Center.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
Typically I will do the initial optical design, present that design to our science customers, determine the cost to build the instrument, and write proposals to get funding from the government. During this design process I work together with engineers from other specialties to negotiate the best solution for our conflicting requirements and ensure that the entire system will fit inside our cost cap and meet the science requirements. Sometimes I will be called in to a group of engineers from many disciplines to help troubleshoot problems on space-bound instruments built by other engineers.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
Solving problems and troubleshooting performance issues in optical systems is both frustrating and rewarding, but very much like reading and solving a good mystery novel. Identifying the problem, then the solution, and finally implementing the fix is very satisfying
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
I did the detailed optical design work for the Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 instrument which is scheduled for installation in May 2009. My second favorite accomplishment is my work as the optical designer and system engineer for the NASA MESSENGER mission Mercury Atmospheric Space and Composition spectrometer which will insert into orbit around Mercury in 2011.
Please tell us a little about your family.
My husband, Tim, is also an engineer and we enjoy spending our free time hiking with our white german shepherd, Tika.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
Take math and science courses whenever possible; don't avoid the hard classes- you can't find out how good you are if you don't challenge yourself. Try everything, including things you aren't good at or don't think you will be good at, to learn what you like doing best.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
Before the arrival of our puppy, I spent fifteen years playing competitive and recreational ice hockey on women's and co-ed teams. When I can find the time these days, I enjoy volunteering at the Butterfly Pavilion, an invertebrate conservatory in Westminster, Colorado.