NCAS Opened the Door
If there were such a thing, Heather Thomas would be your typical non-traditional community college student.
The 36-year-old, married mother of five worked fulltime in a local school district’s IT department to support her family and pay college expenses. As if that weren’t enough, she also participated in student activities such as Student Government, Phi Theta Kappa, International Honor Society and AmeriCorps, which provided her with opportunities to maintain leadership roles and spend time in the community serving others.
During this time, fellow students gave her the inspiration to forge a path and embark on a journey she never would have imagined. In 2011, Heather was introduced to the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program. NCAS is a program that provides students with an authentic NASA experience and encourages them to pursue 2 and 4 year degrees in STEM related fields. Students begin with a 5 week course and are then eligible for an onsite experience at a NASA center. She was hesitant at first to submit her application, but was ecstatic when she was notified of her acceptance in the online session and eventually for the onsite visit at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
"Never in a million years did I think when I submitted my application for the program that I would have been chosen," Heather said.
During her on-site visit at Marshall, she was introduced to the internship opportunities that NASA offers, and was able to network with other students, developing relationships that extended outside of NCAS.
When she completed the NCAS program and returned home, Heather researched her options and applied to multiple internships including an application to the Pathways Intern Program. A few months later she received a call requesting an interview for a Pathways position at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. By the end of her phone interview, she had been offered a position working in information technology. The next day, Heather received an additional call from Kennedy Space Center in Florida offering her an internship for the 2012 Fall Semester. She accepted both offers and spent fall 2012 as an intern and then spring 2013 as a Pathways student.
These opportunities did not come without sacrifice.
"I left my family for a period of four months when I left for Kennedy," Heather said. "It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do."
But her husband and five children were supportive, and the family made the decision to move to Houston. Eventually, this allowed her to fulfill her dream of becoming a full time employee of NASA.
Following her graduation in December of 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in technology management, Heather was offered a fulltime permanent position within the information resources directorate at Johnson.
Heather has since been recognized for her dedication to assigned projects and for the unique skills she brought to the department. This included being honored as a JSC 2.0 Trendsetter for innovation, thanks to her work in IT security and cloud innovation that marks Johnson as a leader in cloud computing.
"Who would have thought little ole me would be working for one of the best places to work and doing the things that I am doing now!" Heather said.