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Meet Dr. Wendy Holforty

Photo of Wendy Holforty

NASA Aerospace Engineer

Webcast/Webchat Archives

Career Fact Sheet Print Version

"I love to fly, and to teach how to fly to kids of all ages. I love working with young people and inspiring them to reach beyond themselves."

Who I Am and What I Do

I believe that one of the reasons I'm drawn to youth is their capacity for being happy. Did you know, for example, that a child laughs 115 times a day, yet by age 40, adults laugh less than 15 times a day? This makes me think they know something we don't.

I am an optimist. The word "fail" is not in my vocabulary. A favorite quote of mine by Hellen Keller says that "no pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit," and I agree.

Growing up, my role models were my mother and father. They never out right said "no" to anything I attempted. If they didn't agree with me, they presented their arguments, and expected me to have the good judgment to do what was right. They taught me that everyone has to follow their own path, and to be responsible for my actions. Most of all, they taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be. No barriers. They never said, "You can't do that because you're..." Because of them, I know that when I reach up, I really can touch the stars.

I have many interests outside of work. I am a Lt. Colonel in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), the United States Air Force Auxiliary. As a search and rescue pilot, I fly in search of downed aircraft and during disaster relief. I also ran the Cadet Program (youth from 11 to 21 years) for the local CAP squadron in Palo Alto, teaching leadership skills and aerospace education.

Since I learned to fly, I developed a passion for all things that fly. I also love working with young people, and inspiring them to reach beyond themselves. I like to hike, camp, and to be outdoors. I also enjoy playing the guitar and piano, and to sing (I sang with the Stanford Russian Chamber Choir).

Career Path
When I started college, I did not have a clue of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Funny thing, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up, but I DO know lots of the things that I want to try out. And I intend to try them all.

In college, I worked for the campus police department directing traffic for sporting events, and from that experience decided that I wanted to be a police officer. I received a degree in Criminal Justice, and became the first female patrol officer in the city of East Lansing, Michigan. I served 10 years in various positions including patrol officer, detective, juvenile officer, hostage negotiator, and police academy instructor. During my career as a police officer, I learned to fly airplanes and decided to make aviation a larger part of my life.

At first I wanted to be an airline pilot. I then realized, that while being a pilot was glamorous, the only time it became really exciting was when something went wrong. This made me turn to engineering and aircraft design. So, I quit the police force and went back to school to get a degree in engineering. To help pay my way through school, I taught flying lessons, and managed the swimming pool program for a local school district.

After completing my degree in aircraft engineering, I spent a summer in Russia at Novosibirsk State University. When I returned from Russia, I applied for a job at the place of my dreams—NASA. NASA was under a hiring freeze and was not hiring anyone. I didn't want to work anywhere else, so I went back to school to get a Master's Degree. While working on my Master's Degree, I decided that I would continue my education and get a Ph.D. I was accepted into the Ph.D. program in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University, and moved to California. While at Stanford, I met Frank Aguilera, branch chief for the Civil Tiltrotor Project Office. I worked in the tiltrotor office for over 2 years as an intern, and then was hired as a civil servant in the Automation Concepts Research Branch. Funny thing, I didn't want to work anywhere else but NASA, and here I am. Not at all how I expected to get here.

The skills that helped prepare me for the work I do with NASA, in addition to hard work and studies, are personal skills. I believe I have the ability to recognize when opportunity is knocking at my door, the intelligence to get up and answer, the good sense to listen to the offer, and the courage to take a chance and accept the challenge. I also have the ability to present myself in a positive, interesting, distinctive, and creative fashion that sets me apart from all the others, the persistence, determination, and creativity to keep trying new things until I get them to work for me. None of which you learn in school. I also believe in the importance of knowing how to communicate your ideas to others in a way they can understand, which implies the ability to listen, and to change your approach until the message gets across.

My advice to young people is to get the best general education you can, including a general, well rounded engineering or physics degree. This has nothing to do with the school you attend, but in how serious you are about learning. Open your eyes, ears, and mind, and let the wonders of the world around you flood in. Keep a positive attitude and outlook. Don't be afraid to ask questions, or be persistent until you get the answers.

Webcast/Webchat Archives

VTODTWD Webcast - April 25, 2002

Last Updated: January 23, 2006


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