Anna Marie Rivas McGowan, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineer Extraordinaire!
Anna-Maria Rivas McGowan has over 13 years experience in aerospace engineering and technology development and is one of NASA’s leaders in smart structures technologies for aerospace vehicles. She is currently leading two efforts in NASA Langley’s Aeronautics Research Directorate. She serves as the NASA lead on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Morphing Aircraft Systems Program which plans to test fly two advanced morphing concepts. She also leads the development of external collaborations in aeronautics at NASA Langley. In 2004, she completed her five-year tenure as the manager of NASA’s Morphing Project. This visionary $35 million per year project involved over 90 researchers in developing and assessing advanced technologies to enable efficient, multi-point, adaptability (morphing) in future flight vehicles. Ms. McGowan has a B.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Purdue University and an M.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Old Dominion University.
Anna was interviewed by Hispanic Times Magazine which explores career related topics in the Hispanic community. Some of the questions and answers from the Spring 2003 issue are presented here:
Where did you go to college and what did you study to become a leader on smart aerospace vehicles?
I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Purdue University, which graduates more astronauts than any other non-military university. I worked on core classes in math and science as a freshman and sophomore--chemistry, physics, calculus--and moved into more specialized classes as a junior and senior--flight dynamics, aircraft design, propulsion technologies. As an undergraduate, I was a co-op student and interned at Langley Research Center during five semesters in totally different areas of research--wind tunnels, space trusses, spacecraft, fighter planes, dynamics and control. My experience as a co-op student exposed me to a number of fields and led to a job at NASA in an area that interests me the most. When I got my Masters of Science in Aerospace Engineering from Old Dominion University, NASA paid my tuition and my salary while I worked at Langley full time and went to school part time.
Who most inspired your choice of career or field of study?
My mom, who's awesome! When she learned about my fascination with airplanes she kept stoking my interest. She took me to the airport to watch take-offs and landings, she gave me books on aircraft, and on my 16th birthday she gave me a private flying lesson! Both of my parents impressed upon my brother and me the importance of education and always encouraged us to take the most challenging courses. They are the greatest life cheer-leaders, inspiring us to go farther than we ever thought we could.
What advice would you give children who want to become aeronautic or aerospac eengineers?
When I went to high school, my career choice wasn't always encouraged. I realized that I would have to fight for what I wanted. I had friends and advisors who said, "You want to do what?" Engineering was and still is a predominantly male field. While jobs like physicist, engineer, scientist may be considered nerdy, what we do is actually really cool.
My advice for high school students interested in this field includes: A. Make good grades; B. Take as many science and math classes as possible; C. Participate in extracurricular activities to become well rounded; D. Be proactive in launching a career--get out there and meet engineers, go to flight exhibits and expand your horizons.
What do you love most about what you do with the Morphing Project?
It's creative--it allows me to try something very different and influence the future of flight. I get to work with hundreds of fascinating people, many of them the most brilliant in the business, and I can learn a great deal from them. Knowing that you're the first to try something new is fantastic.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
Keeping up with the technology can be difficult since it changes and expands very quickly. We also work across technical fields and it can be hard to excel in all areas at the same time. For example, someone who knows electronics also needs to understand structures, materials and aerodynamics.