According to the "Pew Research Center" one in five aerospace and defense companies are now run by women. Last month, NASA promoted the first woman in their history to head the Marshall Space Flight Center on Redstone Arsenal.
Her name is Jody Singer. She’s a native of the Tennessee Valley now working just 30 or so miles from where she grew up. When asked about her roots she said, “Makes you very proud to be a native of north Alabama and then to see a dream come true.”
For Singer, dreaming is not enough. It must go hand in hand with doing – and she’s done plenty of both. It’s a drive she’s had all her life. It took her from the farm in Hartselle where she grew up – fascinated by the rockets her friend’s dads were building at Redstone - to the University of Alabama, where she earned her degree in industrial engineering in 1983 - finally to the cubicles, labs, testing and manufacturing facilities of the Marshall Space Flight Center.
“You just think about the science and technology, what it does for this nation. It makes me very proud to be involved in something larger than myself,” she said.
She’s a rocket rock star around here. Our interview had to wait while she greeted some guests outside. With an easy smile and infectious attitude, she exudes an excitement and enthusiasm for the space program and her team’s role in it. She is now the fourteenth director of the MSFC – and almost has to be reminded of the thick glass ceiling she shattered last month. “’And the first woman to hold that job.’ And the first woman; very proud to be.”
Singer began her engineering career with NASA at Marshall in 1985, just two years after her graduation, and two years after NASA finally put a woman in space. The Russians did that twenty years earlier. It was a male-dominated industry, but that never fazed her. “I guess it’s always thinking the impossible is possible,” she said. “You know, I will tell you, when I first came into NASA, Marshall Space Flight Center, many of the times I was the only woman in the room. But I will tell you, I’ve always felt respected, and given the opportunity, and had a lot of folks that invested in me and made a difference.”
She credits many mentors – men and women - with challenging her and guiding her along her path to the top.
She’s proud of the hard work she’s done to get here and the strides women in the private sector have made. Consider this: four out of the top five defense and aerospace businesses, all of which have a large footprint in North Alabama, are run by women. Northrop Grumman’s Kathy Warden. Lockheed Martin’s Marillyn Hewson. General Dynamic’s Phebe Novakovic. And Leanne Caret, with Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security Division.
“And isn’t that fantastic!” Singer gushes. There’s that enthusiasm again. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, women now account for one out of five of the CEO’s in aerospace and defense companies. And Singer is paying it forward. “And to me that’s one of the things that’s important to me as I go forward, is giving others the opportunity too, to make dreams come true.”
The next big dream coming true out here is the Space Launch System, the SLS. Singer’s team is pulling together nearly a thousand companies across 40 states that are working on different components that will send men back to the moon and eventually to Mars, on top of the most powerful rocket ever built. Will they do it? Singer doesn’t hesitate. “Absolutely!”
Just another impossible dream made possible. It’s an attitude she tries to instill in everyone - cheering on the next generation of men and women to quite literally reach for the stars. “You know, that benefit is bigger than ourselves. It’s something that makes a difference, not only for this nation, but for the world.”
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