EngineerGirl @ NASA Ames

#EngineerGirlShow highlights amazing women in engineering to inspire the next generation. This series was produced by George Retelas with his digital art students at SAE Institute

Watch interviews with Dr. Yvonne Pendelton, director of the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, and LCDR Leedjia Svec, director of military programs at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

Interview Transcript

So you have an asteroid named after you! It’s asteroid, four numbers Pendleton. [laughter] I thought the four numbers were like 1, 1, 7, 5 or...

Yvonne Pendleton (YP): 7, 1, 6, 5.

7, 1, 6, 5.

YP: A little-known story is that my husband also has an asteroid named after him. His name is Dale Cruikshank. And so his asteroid in my asteroid are going in orbit together around the solar system. They were careful enough to pick an asteroid that was in the same kind of orbit as his and both of them are the kind of asteroids that will not come and hit the Earth because I did not want to have an asteroid that would be responsible for wiping out the Earth, as you might imagine.

What college do you go to?

YP: I started out at a very small private school in the mountains of Georgia called Berry College. It's absolutely beautiful. And there I was studying chemistry, but I decided I really wanted to study engineering because I thought that would be the best way to get a job with NASA and that was my goal. I really wanted to work for NASA. So, I transferred in my sophomore year to Georgia Institute of Technology — Georgia Tech — so I finished my undergraduate degree there and then, lo and behold, NASA came to Georgia Tech, and they offered me a job.

Leedjia Svec (LS): My job here at NASA is to direct military programs.

What are some projects that you've worked on?

LS: Laser eye protection, doing math modeling of color vision and helping pilots and people stay safer.

What activities were you involved in as a teenager?

LS: I did a lot of sports and FFA, Future Farmers of America. I raised sheep and showed them at the county fair. I was in a vet tech group where we we did a lot of science with animals and field trips and things like that.

Do you have any science projects that you remember?

LS: I’ve had many projects. My favorites back in high school, I was in a science class and we had this assignment to make a model of the digestive system and I wanted to make mine 3D. And my teacher said, “no, you can't do that, I mean you could do it but I don't think you're capable.” So of course I went and did it and then he made it the example for all the other models. Unofficially I made a disco ball that lit up and spun around with my engineering friends in college. That was a lot of fun but I definitely learned the importance of following directions because you don't to take shortcuts when you have electronics.

So where did you go to college and what degrees do you have?

LS: I went to University of the Pacific from my undergrad in psychology and technology engineering. I went to the University of Nevada for my MA/PhD in vision science, and Saint Mary's University for my international relations master’s, and I studied abroad at University of Melbourne in Australia.

Why did you choose to study engineering?

LS: I wanted to have tools and a skill set that I could rely on to carry me into the workforce. It's arts and science and everything together.

What are some females that have, like, inspired you, like cartoons or in real life?

YP: Well you know I have some from both. In real life it was my sister. She's 10 years older than I am, and so she was always my role model for staying in school. She has her PhD in statistics, so she was really good at math and that was something that was kind of hard for me and so I always aspired to be you know better at math because of her and I just stayed in school because of her. So before I knew it I had my PhD. The cartoon character that probably inspired me the most was someone from The Jetsons. That's a cartoon, I don't know if you’ve ever heard of it…

Yeah I did, it’s about the future?

YP: It's about the future and I really wanted to live in the future. So I thought it was really cool when George Jetson would go and drop off his briefcase in that little spacey office that he worked at Spacely’s Sprockets or whatever it was, so that kind of inspired me.

A fictional character that inspires me is Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager. I love Star Trek. Have you ever watched it?

YP: Well, I have to confess I watched it all the time. So I think it's probably the Star Trek, I mean I said The Jetsons influenced me but probably Star Trek is what caused me to decide when I was about 10 years old that I wanted to grow up to work for NASA and study the stars. And, lo and behold, that's what I'm doing. I grew up to work for NASA and the first probably 25 years of my career at NASA, I was studying the stars.

So you’ve come very far.

YP: I have thanks to a lot of help from a lot of people who believed in me.

One last question: can I have a hug?

YP: Oh I would love to. Thank you so much.