Momentum Member Spotlight - October 2013
AIAA Congratulates Pamela Burke
By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications
No Photo Available – The AIAA Member Spotlight for October, 2013, shines on Pamela Burke, AIAA Associate Fellow, and Deputy Director of Public Policy for AIAA Region V. Pamela is employed at Red Canyon Engineering & Software, a small business subcontractor supporting the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, she is currently assigned to the Orion Program.
Pamela has degrees in Aeronautical Engineering, Aviation Management, and an MBA with concentration in Quantative Methods with university education certification. She started in the industry in airport management and moved into airport and aviation systems design, followed by a stint in transportation planning and statistics. She moved into the Aerospace side of the industry working in a variety of Systems Engineering disciplines including Economic Analysis and LCC/DTC, Functional Analysis and Mission Scenario Development, Requirements and Integration, and engineering specialties; and both Technical Management roles for Systems Engineering and Specialties and support of Program Management including award fee implementation, contract technical implementation, and metrics development and interpretation.
She has been involved in programs across a variety of customers – civil (FAA), DoD (and individual services), NASA, commercial, classified. Programs she worked on ranged from the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, Titan IV Launch Vehicle, ASAS/ENSCE, and the Space Defense Initiative to the series of NASA Human Space Flight programs that culminated in the current Orion Program and the National Airspace Systems Plan, among many other programs on a wide spectrum of product areas. Along the way she worked in Information Systems design, information security, telecommunications architecture, and was the Systems Engineering /technical Lead for the Colorado Office of Space Advocacy , as well as teaching university level courses in Quantative Methods for Business decisions and Economics. She has also devoted significant time to Proposal development.
When asked what inspired her to enter the aerospace profession, Pamela had a slightly different story than most of our Spotlight subjects, while people inspired her, it was not really a person or even a class which got her interested in aerospace. What propelled her to achieve an aerospace degree, were the very real, sexist, attitudes she saw displayed in her high school education. Pamela explained: “This may not be very P.C., but when I was deciding on a future, it was in a bit of a different era. I graduated from a very small Catholic high school, and the message there for graduating seniors was that girls had only 6 options for future – wife, mother, nurse, school (not college) teacher, secretary, (and this was in the day before the title of “administrative assistants,”) or nun; or perhaps some limited combinations of these. Girls couldn’t be engineers or other technologists. But, I had good grades – including math and science, (physics was only offered at the Boy’s school), and none of the “available” options didn’t sound great, so I took an “interest” test and some of the high scores were in engineering disciplines. Aerospace, actually a program in aeronautics seemed the most diverse and interesting subject to me. I started in Aeronautical Engineering, took pilot training to better understand the “user”, then transitioned into technical management when the industry declined in the later part of the 1970s.”
She continued: “This sort of experience is probably common among my peers – we were often the only female in classes, and sometimes departments in school and then in initial job market. We all have some pretty interesting, and now humorous, stories. The story from there is sort of the standard track for a “girl,” especially one with a low “bored” level, in the Aeronautics/Aerospace industry in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. Moving among disciplines, roles, and programs/technologies – military, civil, commercial, aviation, space, classified & unclassified. Some of the attitudes I encountered were in the work world too. In one early job, I was told that girls couldn’t REALLY be engineers – they could go to school and all, but just could not be a real engineer.” With a wry smile, she concluded: “Interesting times for sure.” She continued, “Eventually though, I found a path into a series of Systems Engineering disciplines and alternated between technical and management positions.”
When asked if she had any people who served as inspirations to her, Pamela said, yes: “One of the nuns who taught math at the high school had a boatload of MSs in math and physics, PhDs were not encouraged. She’s since been an invited and sponsored participant in conferences in major universities such as Stanford, Oxford, CSU, and several others – she seldom is “off” for the summer! She was invited by HP to be part of the validation a new AP calculus program and calculator, and has had an award winning program called “Math-Aletes” at her current school – she is still teaching and inspiring young people. Although I had no desire to join them I was very inspired by the Sisters in both of the philosophically very different High Schools I attended.“
However, when asked if she had any favorite childhood memories connected to aerospace, Pamela had to relay the news that she really didn’t have any, and apologized for the not “fitting” the AIAA When Did You Know, profile very well. She was forgiven, as a matter of course.
Pamela then discussed her career memory as well as her involvement with the aerospace profession thus far. “I don’t think I have just one, so could I change the question a little – what is my favorite thing about the industry? That I can answer – it is also the thing that can be most frustrating about the industry – change. Change as an opportunity to do different things; to work different programs and customer bases; to learn new and different technologies; to afford yourself of new experiences and stretch your imagination and self-image,” she chuckled and concluded: “sounds sort of “to boldly go” -ish; but to me that’s what makes this industry work.” “Now, if I had to have one example, I think it would be when I had an opportunity to go to a local elementary school and talk to a couple of classes about the Space Program. There were teachers “peeking” in the door to overhear and watch. I had only brought a few props. So, the class “built” a Space Shuttle out of the classroom chairs. The speed at which these very young children “got it” was absolutely amazing!”
As for college students who are about to graduate, or who are thinking about the aerospace profession as a career, Pamela offered this advice: “Be flexible. Be adventurous. Get a good foundation. Try to understand where the industry will be when you get there. Get a communication channel into industry –to learn where it is going and how you can prepare to fit in. Learn and demonstrate core skills such as problem solving and the capability to frame and communicate ideas. Specific job skills can (and probably will) be taught to you when you start a job. As noted above, this industry in extremely “non-static”. Be willing to learn to do different things, be open to opportunities. Use your time in the educational system to learn about a variety of disciplines and develop core skills. Investigate the industry at multiple levels – some of the best stuff is being done at small businesses, not just the industry megaliths, be they corporate or government. But, on the other hand, don’t discount the opportunities available for a varied career path in these “masters of the industry”. Also – learn to network; use organizations such as AIAA as windows of opportunity; but (again maybe not PC), don’t limit you view to the window of AIAA – investigate other associations in concert with AIAA. There may be something you never even knew existed that will prove to be a fit.”
For her peers in the industry, Pamela offered this advice: “Pretty much the same as for College students – be flexible, open to new tracks, network – up, down and diagonal; you can’t predict where something will pop-up. Never stop learning and stretching – don’t become so ensconced in your discipline or skill that you miss the opportunities offered by the evolutionary swirl of the industry and technology.” She went on to offer this last piece of advice “mostly though – keep a sense of humor!” When asked about her advice for older professionals wishing to help younger professionals, Pamela counseled: “Be available, listen, be inclusive, be respectful, be honest. Tell stories of relevance to the young professional and the message you are trying to communicate. Everybody has an older relative with tales to tell. That said, be willing to share how you got to where you are and the good and bad of the trip. Remember that their history and future is different than yours – help them to gain skills for their future. The paradigm shifts with each “generation.”
For students in high school who are thinking about an aerospace degree, Pamela had a lot of advice, telling them to: “Investigate a lot. Exercise your imagination when considering the future. Take courses that give you the broadest foundation possible. This will also help you learn what appeals to you as a career. Take advantages of opportunities to gain experience and insight into the industry – remember there are more things going on than you can imagine. Participate in events that let you practice the technologies and disciplines employed in the industry. Reach out to local industry and academia for guidance. There may be some professionals and college/university students in your area that would appreciate the opportunity to mentor the future. Have confidence in your ability to go where you want – but remember to develop goals and plans. “Wanting to” do something, doesn’t get you there.
As a final note, Pamela volunteered “Don’t let someone else’s restrictions stop you – find a way to work the system or work around the system. Maybe that is one of my messages.”
Our interview closed with Pamela being asked to prognosticate on the future of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), and what the future of Human space exploration might hold. Pamela put on her sooth-sayer hat, and answered: “I think that we are on a path for an interesting, exciting, and mutually beneficial adventure in many ways. I work for a small business subcontractor (Red Canyon) on the Lockheed Martin Orion Program which will incorporate the ESA Service Module. The NASA/ESA partnership will be a benefit to the continuance of Human Space Flight. We will be able to explore more, sooner with ESA contribution. In the words of the DPM for the LM Orion Program “we are all in”. ISS has demonstrated successful space partnership with NASA; Orion is the first Exploration Program to partner with ESA.
AIAA congratulates Pamela Burke, on her selection as the AIAA Member Spotlight for October, 2013, and we wish her the best in her future endeavors!