Alicia Dwyer Cianciolo
Alicia Dwyer Cianciolo
Aerospace engineer, NASA
Cosby, MO

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Close Up
  • Describe what you do in your current work situation.
    To explain what I do, assume for a minute that you have developed an instrument to do something at Mars...now you need to get it there. I am part of a large team at NASA that can do the job. Lets say your instrument is a camera and you want to use to take pictures of the planet. We design the satellites to hold your camera and we put them in orbit around other planets like Mars. Or say your instrument requires soil samples on Mars. We find out how many samples you would need and where you would like to take them and we design a rover (mobile) or a lander (immobile) that will go where you want and take the samples you want.
  • Why did you choose engineering?
    I grew up on a ranch in Nebraska, and though I admired my parents for their occupation and I loved living in the country, I knew that I did not want to follow in their foot steps. In school I focused on what I was good at. I was terrible at spelling and writing but good math and science.
  • Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
    Creighton University, Omaha NE, Bachelors Degree in Physics The George Washington University, Washington DC; Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering.
  • What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
    I have worked on the 2001 Mars Odyssey and 2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions and the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover missions. I am currently working on the Mars 2009 Science Laboratory Rover mission. I also participate in studies to determine the technologies that need to developed to enable humans to land on Mars.
  • What do you like best about being an engineer?
    The challenge. Every day there is a new one. We are solving problems that have never been solved before.
  • Please tell us a little about your family.
    Recently my husband was transferred from Virginia to Missouri and thanks to technology and NASA’s commitment to flexibility in the workplace, I am able to continue to work for NASA from my home. I live in Missouri with my husband and two daughters ages 1 and 3.
  • What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
    It takes a LOT of hard work, dedication and persistence but it pays off every time I see another new picture from Mars.
  • Any other stories or comments you would like to share with EngineerGirl visitors?
    The challenge. Every day there is a new one. We are solving problems that have never been solved before.
Biography
Alicia is part of a team at NASA designing satellites and rovers to explore our solar system. Much of her work has focused on ensuring that spacecraft successfully orbit or safely land on the surface of Mars.—Most recently she was a member of the Entry, Descent and Landing Team that delivered the Curiosity rover to Mars' Gale Crater in August 2012. Mars spacecraft have been collecting evidence that, in the past, the Red Planet was covered with water—such a discovery could mean that life might be possible elsewhere in our solar system. Alicia thinks the best part of her job is seeing pictures or hearing of new discoveries that scientists are making about Mars with data they received from the orbiters, landers, and rovers she helped to put there.  She says, "It makes me feel that what I do really makes a difference.” Alicia has had various roles in nearly all missions to Mars in the past decade including the 2001 Odyssey orbiter, the 2003 Exploration rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), the 2005 Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the 2011 Science Laboratory Rover, Curiosity.  She is employed by NASA's Langley Research Center.  (While she originally worked at the Center in Hampton, Virginia, when her husband was transferred, NASA allowed her to continue to telework from her home in Missouri.) Alicia grew up on a ranch in northeast Nebraska. Though she admired her parents occupation and loved living in the country, she knew at an early age that she did not want to follow in their footsteps. She became a physics major as an undergraduate. After a summer internship at a physics lab, she felt that beyond a small group of scientists, the work she did would not immediately impact people. She desired something more applicable to society. That's when she turned to engineering.  Alicia enjoys traveling, cooking, and spending as much time as possible with her husband and four children. 
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Education
Education B.S. in physics, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska; M.S. in mechanical engineering, The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
Latest Questions
  • Niita, Bangalore

    Added Saturday, January 14, 2017 at 7:23 PM

    Hello, I am currently in my final semester of my B.E Computer Science Engineering. The only thing I've realized is that I am not such a good coder, maybe that's why I haven't got placed yet in any of the companies that has visited my campus. Back in my college days, I was inclined towards Physics and always wanted to take up Aeronautics/Aerospace as a Career then, but seeing that CSE was easier I opted for that. Now that I know CSE isn't for me, can I pursue in Aeronautics? How can I validate ...
    Answers 1
    Answered Saturday, January 14, 2017 at 7:23 PM

    Dear Niita, 

    Something similar happened to me. I completed my undergraduate degree in physics and decided that it was not what I wanted to do forever. I decided to go to graduate school for  engineering. My physics background gave me a unique ...

    Read More
  • Emily , California

    Added Wednesday, January 4, 2017 at 12:52 AM

    I am a freshman in high school, and I would like to become an engineer in the future. I have been debating between aerospace and biomechanical engineering. I have recently been interested in working for companies working on research in space and beyond, notably SpaceX and Nasa. However, I do have an adoration for technology in the biology field, as I do have interest in biology along with an engineering twist. However, I have heard there are not many opportunities for biomechanical engineers. ...
    Answers 1
    Answered Wednesday, January 4, 2017 at 12:52 AM

    Dear Emily, 

    At NASA we need expertise in a broad range of fields. As we try to figure out how to enable humans to live Mars there are many engineering and biological challenges to be solved. 

    Some examples of biomedical engineering work ...

    Read More
  • Tisha, London

    Added Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Hey, I am currently considering taking up either a mechanical or aeronautical engineering course at university but I'm struggling with trying to convince myself that this course will suit me. After attending various open days and taster courses engineering is definitely satisfying me and I wish I found out a lot earlier so that I could have participated in more relevant activities. The time is coming for me to write my personal statement for my university application, when I read past examples ...
    Answers 1
    Answered Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Dear Tisha,

    It is never too late! I never took an engineering class until I decided to get a masters in it. I finished my bachelors degree in physics and decided that it was not a career path that suited me. Perhaps I felt the same way you do. I had ...

    Read More
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