Meet: Eric Villeda
Aerospace Systems Safety Research Assistant, Ames Research Center
I am currently working at NASA Ames Research Center in the Human Factors
Division as a Research Assistant in the Aerospace Systems Safety Research
Branch. I belong to the Aeronautical Crew Decision Making group. The main
focus of our group is to study how flight crews interact and make decisions.
This means we look at how pilots communicate with each other, with fellow
flight crew members, dispatchers and with air traffic controllers. How
do pilots view risk? How does it affect their decisions? What distinguishes
good communication techniques from not-so-good communication techniques?
If a pilot makes a mistake, how does his or her co-pilot correct the error?
These are all questions that we are trying to answer through research.
Our goal is to come up with ways to make pilots safer and more efficient.
Although our research focuses on pilots, a lot of
the things we study can be applied to other areas in which team communication
and decision making is important. Especially in a dynamic environment.
For example, by finding better ways to communicate and allocate resources,
we may be able to help fire fighters, hospital emergency room teams, nuclear
reactor crews, space crews, expedition teams, and military command and
control units operate more effectively.
As a Child
My parents were born and raised in Central America. My father came to
the United States in the 1950's, and my mother arrived in the 1960's.
They settled down in New York City, which is where I was born. I grew
up in Queens, one of the five Boroughs of New York City. Although I learned
to speak Spanish first, English is my primary language.
My Career Path
As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a pilot. I used
to read a lot of books about pilots and flying. I also enjoyed reading
science fiction books and learning history. My bedroom was filled with
model airplanes and posters of fighter jets. My goal was to become a military
pilot. Unfortunately, when I was a teenager, I had to get glasses. At
the time, pilot applicants were required to have perfect vision. Although
I was disappointed, I still wanted to learn how to fly.
After high school, I went to college in Daytona Beach,
Florida. After one year, I decided to return to New York to take flying
lessons. Meanwhile, I worked part-time and enrolled in the local community
college. These were difficult times for me. My flight training was interrupted
by pneumonia and - three months later - by mononucleosis. Soon afterwards,
my mother was laid off from her job, and I had to quit my flight training
altogether. I continued to go to school, and graduated with a two-year
degree. By then, I was more determined to complete my flight training
than ever. I enrolled in a flight training school in Lakeland, Florida
in 1993, and obtained my instrument flight instructor certificate, or
CFII (single-engine land), in May, 1994. In the fall of that year, I began
attending the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. I graduated in
1996 with a Bachelor's degree in Aviation.
During my senior year at Ohio State, I enrolled in
independent study courses in psychology. The professor that I worked with
helped me get a summer internship here at NASA Ames. At the completion
of my summer internship, I was asked to stay as a student research assistant.
Great Things About My Job
Although I haven't achieved my lifelong goal to fly professionally yet,
I am having a lot of fun working here at NASA. I am learning a great deal
about many aspects of aviation. I am also proud to be a part of a group
of people that strive to make the skies safer for everyone. I think the
toughest part of my job is learning all of the acronyms that are associated
with the projects (for example, ATC means air traffic control), and learning
about all of the projects themselves. Some projects focus on topics with
which I am unfamiliar, and it takes time to catch up. One of the most
satisfying things about this job is knowing that there are people out
there (like the FAA, airlines, and universities) who actually apply what
we learn to their everyday operations. I have met many smart and interesting
people here, and they have taught me a lot. The friends that I have made
here are a lot of fun. We have taken flying trips to Pine Mountain Lake
and Mendocino, hiked in Yosemite Valley, gone white water rafting, and
played in the softball league together. This internship has also allowed
me to work part-time while attending graduate school. I am currently enrolled
in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's graduate program, and expect
to complete the program in May, 1999.
The best advice I can give to anyone is never lose sight of your dreams.
Find something you are truly interested in, and stick with it. There may
be a few obstacles along the way, but if you persevere you will be even
more satisfied when you succeed. I also encourage people to participate
in extra-curricular activities whenever possible, whether it is sports
or study groups. These could be the most fulfilling things about school
both socially and academically, so don't miss out on the opportunity to