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Society of Women Engineers

Day in the Life of Aerospace Engineer Naomi McMillin

If I had listened to negative people instead of my counselor, I may not have had the incredible 37 years of working as an aerospace engineer for NASA.

Published On: September 2017

Naomi McMillin

I was in 7th grade when a school guidance counselor recommended that I consider a career in science/engineering since I did very well in mathematics and science classes. It was then I began to seriously think about aerospace engineering since I was also captivated by our nation’s trips to the moon and by the TV series Star Trek. Yep … I am a Trekkie. (Check out the new Star Trek series airing this fall.)

I completed high school in three years to attend North Carolina State University (NCSU) at 17 years of age. I took five years to obtain my bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in order to participate in the co-operative study program. I alternated semesters at NCSU with working at NASA Langley Research Center (NASA LaRC) as an engineering intern. After graduating from NCSU, I was hired as an engineer at NASA LaRC. During my first four years as a full-time employee at LaRC, I studied part-time and earned a master’s degree in gas dynamics from George Washington University.

I work with both wind-tunnel and computational data on various types of aircraft. Right now, I am working on two projects with different types of vehicles: a space launch vehicle and a T-tail airplane. However, with both projects, my day involves processing computational solutions of flow over the vehicle and comparing those results with wind-tunnel data and previous data sets on similar vehicles.

My days usually also include writing technical papers and coordinating efforts with other researchers. I really like the interactions with people I come across in my work, and I love working the physics of a problem and using computers and writing to bring the story of those physics to others in the field.

I truly believe that the challenges I have encountered in my career have not been defined by my gender. My biggest challenge in my career was balancing my role as a parent and my role as an engineer, but that challenge was the same for my husband who is also an engineer at LaRC. Together, with the flexibility of work schedules available to NASA employees, my husband and I feel we successfully raised three sons while maintaining vibrant careers in our field.

I would advise young girls to not let others tell you what you cannot do. If I had chosen to listen to the negative people instead of listening to that middle school counselor, I may not have had the incredible 37 years of working for NASA with amazing people from across our country.

About SWENext

SWENext is a way to become part of the Society of Women Engineers as a student through the age of 18. Become part of SWE and #BeThatEngineer! Joining is free. Families and educators play a key role in the success of SWENexters. The SWENext program offers resources and information for adult advocates as well.

SWE launched the program after receiving hundreds of requests from parents seeking resources on how to educate their daughters about the transformational impact of engineering. For students, SWENext provides a dynamic opportunity to learn, connect with peers and witness real women engineers in action. SWENext participants can also meet women role models, which is a critical step toward enabling them to visualize themselves in a STEM career.

“SWENext will introduce the next generation of women to the exciting world of engineering in a collaborative, fun environment,” says SWE executive director and CEO, Karen Horting. “We want to provide girls with a network of mentors and girls like themselves who will support them throughout their journey.”

When participants (including girls, parents, guardians and educators) sign up for SWENext, they will receive complimentary access to:

  • Up-to-date information about outreach events such as camps, competitions and workshops hosted by SWE and its partners
  • A catalog of available scholarships for engineering schools offered by SWE and partner organizations
  • Tips and best practices for applying for scholarships and internships
  • Advice from practicing engineers as they discuss the work they do in regular webinars
  • Opportunities to shape the future of the program through participation in the SWENext council

To learn more about SWENext and sign a future engineer up, visit swenext.swe.org.

Sponsored by:
Brown – Executive Master
SWE – Diverse Podcast