STEM Professional of the week

Ginger Kerrick      

She is the recipient of the 2012 HENAAC Professional Achievement in Government Award.

Ms.  Kerrick is the Flight Director and Assistant to the Chief for International Space Station for the NASA Johnson Space Center.  Ms. Kerrick knew early on that she wanted to be either an astronaut or a professional basketball player.  Sadly though, when Ginger was 11, tragedy struck the family when her 44-year-old father passed away

from a heart attack. After years as a homemaker, Ginger’s mom found herself struggling as the sole provider for Ginger and her three siblings. For Ginger, basketball suddenly became more than a dream; it became a ticket to her future. Motivated by her passion for basketball and by the financial circumstances of her father’s untimely passing, Ms. Kerrick graduated second academically in her class and was named El Paso Female Athlete of the Year. The University of Texas at El Paso took notice and offered her an academic scholarship and an opportunity to walk-on to the women’s basketball team.

Fate stepped in again, however, and before the first game of the season she blew out her knee. With her basketball dreams dashed, Ms. Kerrick threw herself into pursuing a career in the space program. She transferred to Texas Tech to take advantage of the school’s NASA co-op program opportunities. She graduated with a solid grade point average, but fell short of the lofty requirements of the NASA co-op program. Undeterred, she applied for another NASA summer internship and performed so well that she transitioned to co-op status by the end of the summer. With graduation in sight and her dream career at NASA now seemingly within reach, she encountered a government-wide hiring freeze. While she waited for the freeze to be lifted, she enrolled in business courses at Texas Tech and called NASA daily to inquire about any openings. Finally, in 1994, her daily calls, as well as her prayers, were answered when she learned the freeze was over and a position opened up for a Materials Research Engineer with the NASA Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance Directorate.

Now with her foot firmly in the door, she took a rotational assignment in the Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) as an instructor for the Environmental Control and Life Support System of the yet-to-be-flown International Space Station (ISS). About three months into this assignment Ms. Kerrick was notified that she was selected for astronaut interviews.

However, there would be no Hollywood ending for Ms. Kerricks’ quest. During the interview process, she learned she had a medical condition that disqualified her from becoming an astronaut. Devastated but still determined, she quickly concluded that, while she might never visit space herself, she could apply her vast experiences and her passion for the space program to become an astronaut instructor and help others reach the stars. In 1996, she became a permanent team member in MOD, where she’s grown and thrived ever since.

Over the last 16 years, Ms. Kerrick has had a number of unique and satisfying positions. After the successful execution of that mission, in 2001, Ginger became the first non-astronaut Capsule Communicator (Capcom), the Flight Control position that relays information from Mission Control to the crew. She served in this role for four years until she became a Flight Director in 2005. She is a dual-certified Flight Director, having supported both ISS and Shuttle Operations.

Ms. Kerrick has received numerous awards from NASA and outside organizations for her stellar work. When she’s not at NASA she promotes STEM in her community by speaking at local schools, universities and non-profit events. She is a mentor and frequent guest speaker for NASA’s co-op program and enjoys promoting the message that “background doesn’t determine your future.”

Ms. Ginger Kerrick earned both her bachelor and Master of Science degrees in physics from Texas Tech University.

©2012 TECHNiCA Magazine

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