Mary Nguyen is a Structural Engineer at NASA based in Huntsville, AL. With prior experiences in Health Science and Business fields, she leaped into Engineering to advance her problem-solving skills. She is a self-proclaimed Empoweress and STEMinist, where she aspires to establish confidence and fearlessness to promote the presence of women in STEM. Mary takes pride in being multi-faceted: by title she is a critical thinker, analyzer and problem solver. But at all times she is a wine and coffee lover, wellness advocate, career blogger, and more. We're so excited to have Mary share her story as a Role Model with La Petite Écolière!
INTRODUCE YOURSELF! TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR FORMAL AND INFORMAL EDUCATION.
Hi! My name is Mary and I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering. I also have an Associate’s of Science in Business and switched career paths after realizing I wanted to bring my creativity, leadership personality, and critical thinking skills into STEM. Academically, I have Project Management Experience in leading a team of Rocket Scientists where it was my role to overview the project design, integrate subsystems, and be the face and voice of the team. I am also Lean Six Sigma Certified through academics which allows me to assist in business development, company costs savings, and improve process response times.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OR SKILL YOU LEARNED INSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
- Knowing how to be resourceful is just as important as being knowledgeable: learn to seek and utilize what’s around you to help you excel.
- The lessons performed on the days you skip are always on the exam =P
- There is no such thing as a dumb question. If you are curious, then many others probably are too.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OR SKILL YOU LEARNED OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
Communication and collaborative skills are dire in successfully completing professional projects. As an engineer it is not uncommon to work in a team of shy individuals, so it’s really important to push out of your comfort bubble to make sure everyone is on the same page. And if you are an extrovert like I am, then it’s important to be the person who’s willing to reach out and be the integrator. Always keep an open-mind to new ideas and methods of problem-solving. There’s a lot to be gained in remaining curious and unbiased when it comes to creativity and innovation. Performing trial and error is how you determine optimal solutions, so don’t be afraid to fail. Lastly, true leadership is coaching up others and standing up for what’s right. Always use your position/role to help serve your peers and advance your fellow colleagues.
WHO WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE TEACHER?
Oh my gosh, Dr. Ramachandran (we called him Dr. Ram)! He was THE funniest, lighthearted, and sarcastic professor I knew. The sarcasm can be either good or bad, depending on how well you take criticism and judgement haha *cries*. He was also one of the hardest professors, which made him even more “memorable” lol! But all jokes aside, he really made you think. He would ask a ton of questions in the classroom to keep you on your toes and would frequently pick random students to demonstrate their homework in front of the class. It was really intimidating, but his sense of humor made you feel like you could be “wrong” and still laugh it off, which was considered amazing in engineering school haha. And when you really expressed your effort, he was a little more willing to boost your grade, bonus!
WORKING AT NASA IS A DREAM JOB FOR MANY. YOU STARTED THERE AS AN INTERN, AND WERE ABLE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN TWO JOBS UPON GRADUATION! HOW DID YOU INITIALLY GET YOUR INTERNSHIP AT NASA AND WHAT DID IT TAKE TO PROVE YOURSELF AND GET A FULL-TIME POSITION?
In my experiences, obtaining internships can actually be harder than to gain a full-time position. And the reason is that it’s much easier to prove yourself once your foot is already in the door. The goal is to build your resume throughout your undergrad so that you can become marketable. In other words, take advantage of applicable volunteering opportunities, clubs/orgs, hands-on projects, and networking events. Then strive to gain professional experiences by building your skill-sets on the job via internships or part-time positions. Many people don’t take pursue these steps thinking that a good GPA is sufficient, but it is not. I always hear an employer say that they prefer someone with a mediocre GPA with outstanding achievements than an outstanding GPA and no professional effort.
I always hear an employer say that they prefer someone with a mediocre GPA with outstanding achievements than an outstanding GPA and no professional effort.
By my senior year of college, I already had everything I mentioned above covered on my resume. So when I applied for a summer internship position under NASA’s contract, it was a little easier for me to obtain an interview because I had competitive skills. Never think that you need exact skills to be qualified for a job. Employers just want to know that you’ve proven maximum effort and can be coachable! After my interview, I completed related tutorials to the position (in my free time) to further show my willingness and initiative. I followed up with the Hiring Manager by thanking him for his time, attached with my completed lessons. To my surprise, he said I was the only one that did this. Proving yourself sometimes require doing more than just the norm and going above and beyond. If you’re unsure of how to accomplish this, don’t be afraid to ask “what can I do in the meantime to further qualify myself for this position?” in an interview.
Then throughout my internship, I made myself known to many of the Team Leads and Hiring Managers on the contract. I reached out to them to express my interest in future opportunities. Networking and building relationships is crucial in advancing your career. “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.” You’ll be amazed by how many people are more than willing to help as long as you put in your maximum effort. So of course, my Team Lead and a few others negotiated amongst themselves to offer the available entry-level positions upon my graduation date!
IN YOUR BLOG POST, YOU TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE BARRIERS YOU HAVE HAD TO OVERCOME AS A DAUGHTER OF IMMIGRANTS, AND THE LACK OF RESOURCES AVAILABLE. DO YOU HAVE ANY RESOURCES OR TIPS YOU CAN SHARE THAT MIGHT BE HELPFUL TO STUDENTS WHO MIGHT BE FACING SIMILAR BARRIERS?
Yes! The biggest challenges of being a first-gen student was that I didn’t have the parental support and guidance many of my peers had. So my tip is to do whatever necessary to set yourself up for success early on. For me this meant performing extensive research, properly obtaining student loans, making financially smart decisions to accumulate the least amount of debt possible, *networking*, building supportive relationships, and not being afraid to ask for help!
YOU TRANSITIONED INTO STUDYING AND PURSUING STEM AFTER HAVING ALREADY STUDYING AND WORKING IN BUSINESS. HOW WAS YOUR TRANSITION AND DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF WISDOM FOR WOMEN WHO WOULD LIKE TO GET INTO STEM AFTER COMPLETING POST-SECONDARY SCHOOL IN A DIFFERENT FIELD?
My transition was both super exciting and scary! I received a lot of “WOW people usually don’t go from business to engineering, it’s generally the opposite” lol! The biggest adjustment was going from an easier workload to more demanding and challenging courses. I wish that I would’ve given it my all in the beginning, as that would’ve tremendously helped my GPA in the long run. Of course this didn’t hit me until later when I started suffering in some of my courses. I thought... “I guess I really do have to buckle down now” lol! I learned that the additional tutoring, professor outreach, and study groups are extremely helpful in succeeding, especially if you’re balancing both work and college as I did. Remember how I said to maximize the resources around you? This is all a part of it. Don’t slack on available help! Put in the extra time and effort to do your best both in and out of the classrooms.
WHAT IS ONE LESSON YOU YOU’VE LEARNED THAT YOU’D LIKE YOUNG GIRLS GROWING UP TODAY TO KNOW?
GIRL, I just want you to know that you are brilliant, capable, and can achieve anything you put your mind to. You ARE enough, just the way you are. I initially avoided STEM for so long thinking I wasn’t as “smart” as everyone else. But knowledge and skills are obtained through practice, time, and dedication. It’s not always about what you currently know, it’s how you persevere and rise beyond the barriers regardless of your circumstances. You can do it!
GIRL, I just want you to know that you are brilliant, capable, and can achieve anything you put your mind to. You ARE enough, just the way you are.
WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?
I’m currently reading 2 books: You are a Badass by Jen Sincero and The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur. These two books pretty much sum up who I am: half of me is all about connecting with others through their past experiences, where I’m passionate in cultivating motivation and inspiration (Jen’s book); the other half of me loves poetry and finds so much beauty in our struggles and growth (Rupi’s book). I simply love reading stories I find relatable and helpful in evolving as a young woman.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN TODAY?
I learned that we all have something meaningful and impactful to offer. As a woman, it’s important to not only be present in STEM, but to also highlight our journey and lessons learned to help pave the way for younger generations.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Eeeeek! Thank you SO much if you took the time in reading this and I hope my journey finds you well. A big part of my mission is to not only share my accomplishments, but also my wisdom from prior shortcomings and failures. Every now and then I try to keep it completely raw and vulnerable because that is how we truly connect with one another. So please feel free to send me any questions or feedback. I hope to see each and every one of you overcome barriers in your own path to success!
WHERE CAN WE FIND YOU?