Aerospace Technologist – Project Manager
NASA Ames Research Center
Advice to Students
“On a Bachelor’s degree level, keep as broad based as possible so that you have many, many more possibilities to go to. And think seriously about graduate school.”
MS, Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University
BS, Mechanical Engineering, University of Connecticut
Aerospace Technologist involved in project management; builds research and testing equipment, including large-scale models for wind tunnel tests.
Q: How did you decide to get into engineering? What did you major in in school?
Pollitt: Actually, the way I got into engineering was I had always been interested in NASA. My grandfather used to sit us down in front of the TV set every time an Apollo mission went up, every time anything else went up. He would sit us down in front of that TV set and say, “Watch this, this is history being made.” So from the time that I was little, I always had a real big interest in NASA and the work that NASA did. And when I was about 16, when I was in high school, I made the firm decision that I was going to work for NASA no matter what. So I started talking with college recruiters and different companies and the military and asked a lot of them what types of degrees or what NASA would look for. I didn’t come prepared with a lot of money so I was assuming that I was going to Air Force ROTC. And I was actually four years in a wheelchair. I was injured when I was in high school. So they had said that engineering, aerospace engineering, would be a good field to go into to work for NASA. And I was going to go Air Force ROTC, become an aerospace engineer and then go on to work for NASA. But when I got into college actually I ended up going into mechanical because it’s a little bit more broad based than aero so I figured it would cover me in case NASA didn’t want me. And then I just headed down that path. I headed for a college for engineering. I grew up in Connecticut, so I went to University of Connecticut, got a Bachelor’s in ME and headed on and dropped everything and left for California. Came out to NASA Ames Research Center. Knocked on their door and asked them for a job. And fortunately, within a day I was hired.
Q: What’s it like being a project manager?
Pollitt: I actually enjoy being a project manager. It still allows me to keep enough of a technical edge that I need to keep, because it’s not that large of a project where I’m not directly involved. I’m definitely directly involved in what goes on with the design. And I’ve always had a natural tendency towards leading groups and wanting to manage, organize, set a course for a bunch of people and head them on that course. So I actually tremendously enjoy being a project manager.
Q: What are the challenges of being a project manager?
Pollitt: The challenges of project management? People, working with the people. When you end up spending 90% of your time on one or two people on the project, and those are the people that you can’t get to perform the way that everybody else is performing. So that’s probably the main challenge. Then the other challenges that arise when people get into fights on your team. So on, so forth. It’s mostly the personnel issues.
Q: Now was there anything in your engineering education background that prepared you for this?
Pollitt: No, there was nothing in my engineering education that prepared me for being a project manager. Actually, more of the things that did prepare me was a lot of the extracurricular activities I had in college that I was working on, as an ASME student-section rep, and the Society of Women Engineers. There were a lot of other different societies I was involved with. And the other big thing was playing sports, working on a team. That was a big thing … That’s a lot of what project management and design team is about. I mean, it’s working as a team.
Q: Back to being a student, was engineering easy? Talk about it.
Pollitt: Engineering was never easy. (Laughing.) Engineering was never easy but on the whole, extremely interesting and a lot of fun, I thought. I did a lot of work, had to work very hard but having this job has certainly made any hard work I had in school well worth the effort. And the job that I do, actually, compared to a lot of the friends that I have that I graduated college with or that I now that are also engineers, I actually think it’s a lot more exciting here at NASA. You get all aspects of engineering. I mean, I work with the designer, we’re doing the calculations and we’re doing the design, drawing it on the computer, heading out to the shop, having it built, testing prototype apparatus. We get the whole realm of engineering which makes working at NASA really exciting. Whereas a lot of people I talk to in big companies, they’ll have one specific area. They may do all stress analysis or all fluids analysis or drafting. I mean, they’re not the whole broad range. We’re jacks-of-all-trades. Many of us have to be because we don’t have quite the resources all the time that private industry has. Q: Advice to students, if you were going to talk to a freshman or sophomore right now?
Pollitt: Advice? On a Bachelor’s degree level, keep as broad based as possible so that you have many, many more possibilities to go to. And think seriously about graduate school. I actually enjoyed graduate school more than I did Bachelor’s.