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Interview With Mary Nguyen

I am starting a new series called STEM Girls. This series mostly about amazing women in STEM. I want to highlight their life and work. Today I’m starting with Mary. Mary is an amazing woman who works at NASA as a structural engineer. We talk about her life, dreams, work and the projects she is working on 🙂 She is very honest, funny and strong women in STEM. I hope you like it 🙂 At the end of the interview, you can find the links to reach her 🙂 Lets dive into interview!

1)Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi! My name is Mary and I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Since pursuing STEM, I’ve gained experiences in robotics, aviation, space systems, and propulsion. Currently, I am a Structural Engineer at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, where it is my job to analyze structures and equipment used in testing rocket components to ensure design safety!

2) How did it all start for you?

Previously, I pursued a 2 year Business degree, where I then realized that I aspired for a more technical and challenging career field. I sat out a semester to reanalyze my long-term career path and did a lot of research on different industries. Since I learn best by seeing and doing, ME made the most sense to me because it was the most concrete and offered practical methods of innovating.

3) How do you keep yourself motivated?

By identifying my areas of improvement! I am a goal-oriented person so I try to identify the things that I really want and make a plan to achieve them. I’ve learned that simply thinking about an idea is not enough, and that I am fully capable of accomplishing whatever I aspire as long as I take little steps to help me move forward each day.

4) I know you are taking different paths to lead this career. What do you feel about that? Is this an advantage for you?

I believe that everyone’s path is different and that there’s no single “correct” path for all. However, I love my path and truly believe that it’s been advantageous for me! Both my failures and accomplishments have set me apart, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

5) Could you tell us how is your regular day looks like?

Sure! I pretty much have a set routine, which can be both good and bad. I always start my day with a cup of coffee, checking and answering e-mails, and heading into work.

Generally I’m picking back up on a project I’ve been working on: Finite Element Modeling, debugging errors, writing and reviewing reports, and meeting with customers. Some days I get to engage with Interns and conduct tours, since I’m an active mentor at work.

And I also try to sqeeuze in some personal time like lunch, this interview hehe, or catching up with a friend! After work I sweat out the stress at the gym, eat dinner, and wind down.

P.S., the reason why I say a routine can be bad is because it’s extremely easy to get burned out from repetition. But it’s good, because you know exactly what to expect and do each day.

6) What are you doing in your job? What projects you are involved in ? Can you tell us about it? 🙂

I am currently modeling the SLS Engine Section Test Stand for a future test with another aerospace company. My role is to simulate the loads the stand will see and determine the internal stresses within the structure. I then have to make sure it verifies project requirements and meet the safety factors for materials strength!

7) What do you like most about your job?

It’s challenging and each project is slightly different. Which means that every new project I experience, I am able to learn new methods in efficiently performing my job. It’s super satisfying to be given a problem and be able to obtain unprecedented solutions. Plus, NASA is just an awesome center to work at! I get to see a lot of other cool projects and all of the “big toys”.

8) Where do you see yourself after ten years and what do you want to achieve in ten years?

In 10 years I would hope that I am frequently traveling, investing, and continuing to make an impact. I don’t have a very specific 10 year plan, as I’m still trying to figure life out, hehe. I just know that I would love to have climbed the ladder and be in a leadership role by then. Maybe even publically speaking at conferences and sharing my wisdom (I have a deep fear or public speaking, so hopefully I’ll have overcame that by then, haha).

9)What is your favorite thing to do for your self-care?

I do a multitue of little things to keep myself healthy and relaxed. I have a dedicated skin-care routine, workout regime, and meal plan. I also try to engage in my favorite past-times or hobbies every single week. Sometimes that’s visiting a coffee shop, indulging in girls nights, going out for wine, trying a new restaurant, or even simply staying in. But in all honesty, napping is my favorite self-care, it’s just unfortunate that I don’t get much of it, haha.

10)How do you keep yourself calm after a long and bad day? What is your advice on this?

Sometimes I like to unplug and be alone, you know, really quieten the storm in my mind. So I just…don’t do anything at all. I just lay on the couch and watch a movie and relax. Other times I like to get out and get away. I love being with someone I can trust and vent to about my day over a wine or cocktail. My advice is: it’s important to understand that bad days or times never last, so just do whatever makes you happy in the moment and don’t allow yourself to stay in a funk. Try to always remain positive and do things or talk to people who will add to your positivitiy. You can get through it, you can start over the next day!

11) Which path do you suggest to the younger engineers wants to be like you guys?

There are many different paths you can take. For engineers who are interested in an aerospace agency such as NASA, it’s important to thrive professionally and academically, since the field can be competitive. Aside from determining your niche or passion, the next step will be to take initiative in advancing your skills, maximizing your resources, and capitalizing on your network. For those who are specifically interested in structures, a civil engineering degree is the best way to go. Then, seek to gain experiences in structure design or analysis.

12)Which movies/tv series/podcasts/boks etc. you are recommend for the girls in STEM ?

My current favorite STEM-related movie is Hidden Figures! It’s about a few brilliant, African-American women who have pioneered and created historical impacts at NASA. Truly inspirational.

You can check out her website here !

You can find her instagram here!

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