Momentum Member Spotlight - January 2013
AIAA Congratulates Nicole Smith
By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications
The AIAA Member Spotlight for February 2013 shines on Nicole Smith, AIAA Associate Fellow, and Senior Project Manager, Orion Crew & Service Module, at NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio. Smith has been an AIAA member since 1998.
Throughout her membership, Smith has been actively involved in the affairs of AIAA, sitting on numerous of the Institute’s committees, including: the Membership Committee, the Public Policy Committee, the Regional and Section Activities Committee, and the Young Professional Committee. Additionally, Smith was the Regional Deputy Director of Public Policy for AIAA Region 3 from 2007 to 2010, and sat on the AIAA Board of Directors from 2004 to 2006. She has also been a member of the Space Operations & Support Technical Committee. She was also a volunteer guest judge on behalf of AIAA for the final round of the 2011 National Forensic League Policy Debate Championships, which centered on whether or not the United States should expand or limit its exploration of space. She was made an AIAA Associate Fellow in 2009.
When asked what inspired her to enter the aerospace profession, and who may have influenced her in that choice, Smith replied: “I always was fascinated with airplanes and the cosmos, for different reasons. Planes were so amazing to me, that someone would be able to take something that weighs many tons and make it become ‘lighter than air’. The stars were a different interest, from the time I was a young child I would look up at the heavens and just think or dream about the possibilities out there. When I went to college and chose a major, I pretty much thought, ‘What’s the toughest thing I could study? Where could I make the most impact as a young woman?’ I first chose mathematics, then added the aerospace major a semester later because they had the best toys.” She continued: “As for influences, I was lucky to have parents who never put limits on what I could and could not do. They grew up with very little, and wanted to give their child every opportunity to try new things and excel. Success and going to a university was an expectation, and I never thought I’d do otherwise. My parents were (and still are) incredibly supportive. I also had a couple of incredible math teachers in high school who really made their subjects click for me, and without their influences I probably would not have chosen a technical field.”
“Hands down, meeting Neil Armstrong last year when I was working in the United States Senate,” was Smith’s favorite career moment. She explained: “He was a fellow Ohioan, he was brilliant yet humble, and he was the first man on the Moon. The man was a rock star in my book. Second favorite: getting to watch six Space Shuttle launches live. There was nothing else like it.”
When asked about what she saw as the future of aerospace, Smith turned introspective, replying: “I think we’re going to see aerospace shrink, and then I think we’ll see a boom. Right now we are in a trough where budgets are diminishing, vehicles are being developed and tested but they really haven’t come on-line yet, new technologies are out there just waiting for someone to bring them across the Valley of Death, and the Baby Boomers are sticking around in the workforce longer than they perhaps planned. In the next few years, I see a lot of retirements, vehicles finishing their development and starting to fly, and new missions being developed. At that point, there will be more opportunities for exploration, technology insertion and commercialization, and more young people entering our workforce,” adding “or, at least, that’s what my Magic 8-Ball tells me will happen.”
For those still in school pursuing their aerospace degrees, Smith had this advice: “Study hard, but take time out to have fun. Take learning to work in teams seriously, because you’ll do a lot of that in the workforce. Do a co-op or technical internship, and learn from as many old-timers as you can. Understand that leadership comes in many forms - not just the person at the CEO’s desk or the Program Manager, but all the way through the ranks to the analyst, who works hard, is creative, and delivers on-time.” For those still in high school and thinking about pursuing an aerospace degree, she counseled: “If you love it, go for it! And get as many advanced math courses as you can before you go to college. Right now, that’s one of the biggest challenges that universities are facing with incoming students – they need to have a certain level of math, but did not get it in high school. You can’t start the basic engineering courses without it.”
Reflecting on the value of AIAA to aerospace professionals, Smith stated: “You can’t beat the networking, but I have to say that AIAA gave me the chance to hone some of my leadership skills before I had the opportunity in the workplace. Not only does AIAA offer great technical resources, like journals and conferences, but they also do advocacy and communications. It’s a great, all-around organization and as an aerospace professional, and I can’t imagine belonging to any other professional society over AIAA.”
AIAA thanks Nicole Smith for her years of dedication and service to both the Institute and the aerospace industry, and congratulates her on her selection as the February 2013 AIAA Member Spotlight.