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Meet: Eric Villeda

a photo

Aerospace Systems Safety Research Assistant, Ames Research Center

My Journals

My Job
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 participate.

a photo at Little River airport a photo hiking


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