Leading the Way to Support NASA’s New Challenge

Karen knows space. From a young age, she embraced the mission of exploration and scientific discovery—in part because her parents worked at NASA for a combined total of 72 years. She recalls her father having the second coolest job at NASA (short of being an astronaut): He ran the Zero Gravity Program that trained astronauts by flying planes in parabolic arcs over the Gulf of Mexico. What’s more, the movie Apollo 13 was filmed on his plane.

Her mom worked in the payload (science experiments) and astronaut offices. Karen’s interest grew further when she saw the impact the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion had on her classmates and their families. She knew she wanted to be part of NASA to support the mission.

Karen was offered full-time employment by a NASA contractor after her successful completion of several college internships. For the next 31 years, she focused on the mission of space.

Today, at Booz Allen, Karen provides NASA with agency-wide technical support, leading more than 100 specialists who help engineer the future. We sat down with Karen to ask her a few questions.

Others have spoken highly about working with you and your leadership skills. What motivates you to lead and mentor others?

I’m all about the people. I really believe that if your staff is taken care of, and their needs are heard and met, they’ll be able to perform their best. Our people are our business.

Describe a time when you led with purpose?

Before joining Booz Allen, I was involved in youth activities for 13 years. As a volunteer leader of a 300-member dance team for 8- to 12-year-old girls, I strived to be a role model that they could emulate by showing them what it looked like to make the right choices and be empathetic. Now at Booz Allen, I try to model empathy, inclusivity, and a good work ethic.

What tips can you share about mentoring and motivating others?

Listening is key—it’s about active listening and making sure you know who the person is that’s sitting across from you. It’s about understanding where they are and how you are going to lead or mentor them. I do a lot of observing and develop my own style from others I admire at NASA, Booz Allen, and even former professors.

Why is the NASA program and space exploration important to you?

The things we’ve learned from working in space have benefited the world, and there’s still more to be done. For example, growing crystals in space is helping develop better medicines here on Earth. Also, efforts on the International Space Station have enhanced water purification efforts around the world. The space program is a national treasure. The President has laid down the challenge to put American boots on the Moon in 2024, and that’s a big leap for us (pun intended). I think we should be forward leaning into that goal.

Finish this sentence, the future is…

Space.

 

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