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Meet Mark E. Kilkenny

Program Planning Specialist, Lewis Research Center

Chat Archives

Who I Am
I am a Program Planning Specialist at Lewis Research Center. I have been here since 1997, when I transferred from NASA Headquarters. My job is to help conduct strategic planning for Lewis and assess their progress towards its long-term goals and objectives. Because of my education and experience, my focus is on the Center's Administrative and Business operations (as opposed to its technical activities).

My Career Path
This is my third career at NASA. I spent my first 16 years as a Contract Specialist/Procurement Manager, five years at NASA-Dryden, and 11 years in the NASA Headquarters Procurement Office. Then I spent seven years working for the NASA Headquarters Office of Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology as its International Programs Specialist.

Like many, I slid into these careers. In high school, I was good in all subjects, but liked History and Science best. My first intended college major was Zoology, until I got a C in Chemistry and divined that God was telling me something. So I changed to Paleontology, but bailed out of that when I decided I didn't want to work for oil companies. I shifted to Archaeology, but dropped it when I learned that only low-paid college lecturing and living in tents in summers was in store. Political Science was close to History, and seemed to offer me a good route into the Foreign Service or some other good government job, so I declared it in my sophomore year. By the end of my junior year, I had enough Political Science credits to graduate so I added a second major, Economics, to enhance my job prospects. (With better foresight, I could have added a third major in Geography.) In spite of these twists and turns, I graduated with honors in both majors in four years (working during the summers) from one of the top public universities in the country (University of California at Berkeley).

When I got out of college, I tried to get into the Foreign Service. Although I passed the written exam five times (in six tries), I did not pass the oral exam (in five tries). In the meantime, I took the old Federal Service Entrance Exam twice and eventually was offered several jobs—one at the Government Printing Office, one at the General Services Administration, one as an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency (they had a lot of really weird additional tests!), and one as a Contract Specialist at NASA-Dryden. I accepted the NASA job, even though I had never taken a business class and knew nothing about purchasing. I did fairly well in this career, but eventually got bored with it.

So I took my contracts experience and parlayed it into an interesting job dealing with international agreements (which drew me closer to my academic studies). I liked this job very much, but eventually had to find something else to advance my career. So I parlayed that experience into the one I currently have; which after all these years seems to be the one best suited for my personality (INTJ on the Myers-Briggs scale). My advancement prospects are hazy, but for the time being, I am content.

What I Like About my Job
I have had a secure position in interesting places in the best agency in the world and get to work with many interesting people doing interesting things. I like to think that I have had a strong, positive impact on the organizations I have served and have given U.S. taxpayers their money's worth.

For my first seven years at NASA, grade and salary-wise, my career went very well. Since, then I have been on a "slow-boat to China". It is not that my achievements have diminished, it is just that positions above GS-14 are very limited - especially outside Washington, DC. I have had the experience of watching people I hired and trained, and people of lesser accomplishments (but better skill at influencing people) promoted higher than me. But others face this all the time, so I, like them, have had to learn to get over it and move on!

As a Child
I am a polymath. To this very day I read the Encyclopedia Britannica for enjoyment and edification. I "surf the net" at least an hour each day. I watch a lot of television and go to a lot of movies- especially sci-fi. I remember a lot of the "Brit-Lit" and "Am-Lit" I studied in high school and college. Before college, I was collecting insects, rocks, amphibians, reptiles, fossils and coins. I have always liked planes, rockets and everything associated with NASA. Indeed, my first memory of reading a newspaper was when Sputnik was launched by the Russians and the "Space Race" begun. Since I was a teenager, I have been a connoisseur of castles (especially Crusader castles in the Holy Land), and as an adult I am researching and creating a definitive database on seaplanes (floatplanes, flying boats, etc.). I play the piano. I don't think any of these interests have directly impacted my career, but indirectly they have helped keep me open to the possibilities that I have encountered.

Learn about who you are--- sooner is better than later. Complete a Myers-Briggs profile and other personality tests and HONESTLY answer their questions. Learn about what jobs your personality type, intellectual interests and other personal characteristics are best suited for. Then pick the career path which best, realistically fits the bill (remember, no sense in studying to be a ballerina if you are 6'5" and weigh 300 pounds!). Leave yourself enough room to change instead of getting locked into something you don't like. Also, remember that most people DO change - not because of others, but in spite of them, and because of something inside themselves.

Role Models
When I was very young, my two imaginary grown-up male heroes were my role models. In junior high, the NASA astronauts were my role models. In high school and college, it was Henry Kissinger. Since then, I have been my own role model. I have learned as much from BAD teachers and supervisors as GOOD ones. Marriage has also taught me much about getting along with others and setting one's priorities straight.

Future Plans
Since there never is enough money, and I always seem broke, I will probably work full-time at least twenty more years (health permitting), and then taper off to full retirement when I am 75 years old or so.

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