Status Report

New Program Molds Emerging NASA Leaders

By SpaceRef Editor
January 30, 2011
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New Program Molds Emerging NASA Leaders

A common thread ran through the first graduating class of NASA’s Mid-Level Leadership Program.

“It was a career-changer, really,” said Peter Lillehei, who works in the Advanced Structures and Materials Branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center, which hosted the graduation ceremony Friday in the Reid Conference Center in Hampton, Va.

“Career-changing,” echoed Susan McClain, a classmate who works in Langley’s procurement office.

The 29-member class, representing every NASA center and agency headquarters, was drawn in competition from among 140 applicants for the 14-month program, which actually has two months to run. It was designed almost two years ago by a group that included Debbie Markham, now the MLLP manager, to fill a gap in the education of the agency’s leaders.

“We had a long-term development program for sort of the entry-level leaders at GS 11 and 12,” said Markham, who presided at Friday’s graduation. “We had the (Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program) to get folks ready for the big time. But we had a huge population of about 10,000 NASA employees who are team leads, project leads, first-line supervisors, but we didn’t have anything structured for them.”

That structure became the NASA MLLP, which involved core programs in leadership, management, decision-making, communications skills, business acumen along with a three-six month career-broadening rotation to learn new skills and opportunities.

“It’s given me an opportunity to examine where I am right now in my career path,” said Lillehei, who learned about the program from his supervisor. “It’s allowed me to examine where I am and where I want to go. It’s also given me the tools to help me get there.”

There, in his case, involves looking beyond his job in his branch to a role in helping structure the agency’s future.

The idea in MLLP is to have the individual examine where he or she is on a personal career track, and then to further look at how that track meshes with the goal and mission of the agency.

Among those tools Lillehei mentioned were the other 28 members of his graduating class, which form a toolbox for each to draw upon in what Rick Keegan, NASA’s associate deputy administrator, called “probably the central issue in organizations of any kind of complexity and size like NASA.”

That issue is collaborative leadership, or “how do you work across organization boundaries, be they center or functional or technical or support?” said Keegan, who helped design the MLLP. “You really have to raise yourself up and see things from a larger perspective in order to come to a right answer or best conclusion.

“It can’t be ‘either-or.’ It has to be about ‘and.’ “

Keegan, along with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, and others from headquarters spent Thursday night and Friday morning with the MLLP class, exchanging ideas and opinions from among a group, Keegan said, that was not reluctant to offer both.

“This program, the MLLP, was designed specifically to address the agency’s changing needs,” Keegan told the group at the graduation ceremony. “You are so fortunate to be part of this inaugural graduating class, but NASA is also fortunate to have you with the agency.”

The accent throughout the ceremony was on the future. Speakers stood at a podium flanked by banners on which was written “we are creating the future” and “we are shaping our nation’s technological progress.”

“At NASA, we are called to think about the future,” said Kimberly Ennico of Ames Research Center, an MLLP member, told her classmates in a speech. “An authentic future, not a future peppered with pockets of ‘presentude.’ S We are not spectators. We are investors and active participants in our future.”

It’s a future, she added, that could include finding that Earth isn’t the only place in the solar system with life.

And it’s a future built on a foundation of doing the “impossible.”

“How about these for impossibilities: landing robots on Mars? Imaging the farthest extent of our known Universe? Sustaining astronauts on the largest airborne observatory in the world? Discovering potentially habitable planets? Developing and launching a new space vehicle?” listed Justin Junod, a graduate from Kennedy Space Center, in another speech to his classmates. “The list goes on and on.”

“We’re living these ‘possibilities’ now.”

And so they face a future of accomplishing new “impossibilities.”

Said Ennico: “The people who can make that happen are sitting in this room and looking at me right now.”

And, perhaps, in the second MLLP class, numbering 25 and beginning in March.

Friday’s graduates: Jennifer Budd, GRC; Diana Calero, KSC; Stephen Cumming, DGRC; Kimberly Ennico, ARC; Maria Furr, HQ; Tammy Gafka, JSC; Darlene Gross, ARC; Robert Hanley, JSC; Stephen Janney, JSC; Justin Junod, KSC; Andrew Knutson, KSC; Peter Lillehei, LaRC; June Malone, MSFC; Gregory Mann, HQ; Susan McClain, LaRC; Torin McCoy, JSC; Dawn McIntosh, ARC; Michael Moreau, GSFC; Nylesevalis Ortiz-Collazo, GSFC; Justin Pane, ARC; Jill Prince, LaRC; John Rakoczy, MSFC; Nicole Rayl, ARC; Gigi Savona, SSC; Sasha Sims, KSC; Dawn Stanley, MSFC; Edward Teets, DFRC; Sarah Waechter, KSC; Pamela Wolfe, NSSC.

SpaceRef staff editor.