Women in STEAM: Dr. Joe Hill-Kittle, NASA

By Liz Bleacher

Today we are talking with Dr. Joanne (Joe) Hill-Kittle, Deputy Director Engineering and Technology Directorate at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Dr. Joe and I have been communicating back and forth for a while now for GSHPA events, she has joined us to talk engineering and space a few times and we thought it would be fun to get a little more in-depth about what inspired her to get into STEM.

GSHPA: First and most important questions, when did you first become interested in STEM? Bonus points if you were in Girl Scouts. Was there a moment where you knew you were going to go into STEM?

Dr. Joe: I have a clear memory of sitting on the gate to the farmers field across from my house with my best friend at the age of 7 stating I wanted to be the first woman on the moon. I remember being worried that by the time I was old enough lots of people would be at the moon. Now I hope to play a part (however small) of putting the first women and first person of colour on the moon. I knew this dream would mean I would have to study hard in STEM. I was a Brownie and a Girl Guide (kind of a UK equivalents to Girl Scouts) for many years and learnt a lot about leadership and perseverance which helped me on my path.

GSHPA: With your early start with STEM and dreams of the moon, what is your favorite memory of STEM at school?

Dr. Joe: It’s hard to say as I loved all the classes that were STEM. I was good at Maths, so I always enjoyed those classes and projects. In one class we were devising an experiment to measure the acceleration of a rocket and then launching the rocket to test it which was really cool.

Dr. Joe studying early on in her STEM life.

GSHPA: What is your current career and how do you use your interests on a day-to-day basis?

Dr. Joe: I trained on the edge of Physics and Engineering, building and designing instruments for new missions. This got me started in the Science area and just recently I move to help lead the Engineering organization. My job now is to help decide what technologies are needed to answer science questions of the future, like are we alone and to help understand our own planet. All of this is fascinating, looking for answers to questions.

Dr. Joe Hill-Kittle at the launch site (Cape Canaveral) for the Magnetic Multiscale Mission (MMS)

GSHPA: Working with rockets, and new technology is pretty exciting for us to hear about. What gets you excited about what you do?

Dr. Joe: Who doesn’t like launching rockets, trying to save the planet and learning about the whole universe? I love all of it. We get to design missions that will help us understand climate change and provide early disaster warnings for fires and hurricanes, missions that will help us understand the very beginnings of the universe and search for other Earth’s outside of our Solar System, build instruments that will look for life on planets in our solar system and help us understand our Sun.

GSHPA: What is your favorite thing about your current job and what do you find the most challenging?

Dr. Joe: My favourite thing is thinking about what we can do in the future and how we get there. The biggest challenge is bringing change to a big organization. It can be very slow and frustrating but if you have a team around you to rally each other on, it can also be very rewarding when you start to see the results of your efforts.

Dr. Joe standing in front of the James Webb Space Telescope at Goddard, which will launch in December of this year.

GSHPA: Girls are facing challenges and successes every day in their STEM journeys. What advice would you give to girls interested in a career in STEM?

Dr. Joe: Study hard, look for opportunities like internships to get some experience so you can figure out what you like and don’t like and what interests you.

GSHPA: What can we do to have more girls/women in science like you?

Dr. Joe: Dream big! Encourage each other. Believe in yourselves. I was fortunate to have mentors encouraging me along the way. Look for opportunities and encourage girls and women to apply.

GSHPA: For girls who are now starting in STEM, what skills will help them in their journeys?

Dr. Joe: There are so many opportunities for everyone at NASA, from turning wrenches, writing software to model the Earth, building instruments. One of the common skills that is important, and you will get from Girl Scouts is team leadership and building teams. Understanding how to listen to everyone’s inputs before making a decision. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room but you do have to be smart enough and open enough to listen and value everyone’s ideas to get the best solutions

GSHPA: How does your work at NASA and in the community, help encourage more diversity in STEM fields?

Dr. Joe: I hope by sharing my story people will see their own opportunity. I also spend time advocating for diverse applicant pools for opportunities and look for leadership opportunities for minorities to get the experience needed to move into more senior positions.

GSHPA: Would you say that the environment has changed since you started in STEM? What would be different for girls now?

Dr. Joe: There are already more women in STEM than when I started and that’s great. There is also recognition that barriers do exist, and we need to break them down. We are not done yet but at least there is awareness of the challenges so we can start to address them.

GSHPA: What message do you have for girls and women in STEM?

Dr. Joe: Don’t hold back, you can do more than you think!

GSHPA: Thank you Dr. Joe we look forward to watching the launch of the the James Webb Space Telescope this December and thinking about all the things we steps we can take to do fun and exciting things in the STEM world.

One Small Step and One Giant Impact

Samiya Henry, Gold Award Recipient, Dauphin County

When you hear the phrase “Girl Scouts,” what do you think of? Do you think about the troop leaders who inspire their girls to break boundaries and discover the beauty of the world in everything they do? Or do you think about the endless number of badges there are, each badge being a brick that helps Girl Scouts who are trying to make the world a better place? What about the Girl Scout cookies? Even my mind goes straight to the $4.00 box of Thin Mints when I hear “Girl Scouts.” But it also makes me think of leadership and opportunity. I have been a Girl Scout with the Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania (GSHPA) for over ten years. GSHPA was the first organization I joined after moving to Harrisburg, PA from the Philadelphia area. 

The Girl Scouts not only helped me adjust to my new school and make new friends within my troop, but it helped me understand more about my new found Harrisburg community. Girl Scouts taught me the importance of leadership, community, and service, three very important skills that can guide you in life. These skills began to take root with my journey from being a Brownie (in my elementary school) troop to a Senior (as a one-girl troop (AKA: a Juliette)). These skills, along with the traits of volunteerism, understanding, trustworthiness, and business management are what make Girl Scouts unstoppable.  These skills are empowering and allow us to fulfill projects to the best of our abilities. The one project many Girl Scouts strive to complete is the Girl Scout Gold Award. I completed my Gold Award, entitled “One Small Step,” in July of 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I based my Girl Scout Gold Award around STEM.  I merged my passion for space exploration with my passion for serving and educating others about space, science, and law.  It all began at a conference I attended.  My decision to draft a Space Bill of Rights was sparked by one of the speakers from the National Space Society convention I attended in 2019. 

The speaker talked about Neil Armstrong’s footprint and how there are no laws in space protecting ownership of his footprint.  Thus, my idea to draft a Space Bill of Rights for those who plan to live on Mars or on the moon one day.  This same speaker would open my eyes to a very important fact: space is not owned by anyone.  No person, nor nation.  Therefore, when I began to think about a Space Bill of Rights, I decided to review various constitutions throughout the world.  

When drafting my Bill of Rights, I sought community involvement.  The “community” consisted of people from all around the world:  Africa, Italy, Portugal, Spain, the Philippines, and the United States of America.  Starting in May 2020, I was able to engage the community by asking them to participate in two surveys I created.  The survey questions were generated from the constitutions I reviewed from various countries and my research concerning medical ethics.  By responding to the survey questions, the “community” of citizens from all around the world were able to help me identify the elements they deemed most important for the Space Bill of Rights. 

I was able to submit my Final Report titled: “One Small Step,” on July 20, 2020 and I was approved to receive my Gold Award in no time!  Not only did I achieve the highest Girl Scout honor, but I was able to engage the global community with a project involving space, medical ethics, and law.  Just imagine:  The possibility of being able to see the Girl Scout flag being placed on the Moon or Mars next to the U.S. flag one day! It is possible. With the accomplishments of Space-X and NASA’s rover exploration on Mars, it is possible.  In fact, the space race to the moon and Mars makes my project timely and relevant.  

I have a website up and running where people can learn more about the history and purpose of my Gold Award, while also having the ability to take the two surveys. The link is here: https://smilin632.wixsite.com/sbor20

Samiya and her project advisor, Mrs. Rebecca Lowe.

You can also reach for the stars.  If you are a Girl Scout, stay the course and follow your dreams.  The Gold Award is the perfect platform to help you follow your dreams.  Never give up. Show the world what you can do. 

The Girl Scouts has played a major role in shaping my character and my outlook on life.  For ten years, I have learned to set goals, give back to my community, lead others, and dare to dream.  It has been an honor for me to be a Girl Scout, to earn my Gold Award, and to receive a scholarship from GSHPA.  As I prepare for the next phase of my educational career, I will carry my Girl Scout experiences with me for life.  My Lifetime Membership will serve as a constant reminder that becoming a Girl Scout was one of the best decisions I could have made.  Being able to complete my Gold Award during a world -wide pandemic was humbling.  Meeting new people and being able to help others was a Blessing.  

By the words of the Girl Scouts founder, Juliette Gordon Low, “The work of today is the history of tomorrow and we are the makers.”  Thank you GSHPA for helping to prepare me to conquer the world.  Thank you, for everything!