From Waitressing to Dream Job At NASA: How One Mom Did It

Women@NASA: Cristine Dundas

"I'm a 35-year-old mother of three in my third marriage, working as a waitress, and have let life around me 'just happen.' I exist in a reactionary state of mind." That was me 11 years ago when I decided it was time to take control of my life, become proactive and make choices to live my life.

After finishing high school, going to college was something I never wanted to do. I graduated high school as an average student and did what was necessary to finish and nothing more. Today, I have completed three two-year degrees, all with honors and graduated summa cum laude with a GPA of 4.0 with my bachelor's of science in occupational safety and health. Who knew I had it in me? Not me. I went from being an average student letting life happen to becoming a college graduate who now makes life happen.So how did I get to NASA? How was I offered a job as a quality assurance specialist for the International Space Station? How am I so blessed to be able to have fun eight hours a day, five days a week, and get paid doing it? It is not something that "just happened" and it is not something I could have ever done by myself. I worked very hard, studied even harder, and ignored everyone who said it couldn't be done.

When I decided to take control of my life and go to college, it was not an easy decision. I took on being a full-time student, while working full-time and raising three boys, with the complete support of my wonderful husband. I started out with small goals -- after all, at this point in my life, I had never even made any goals. While going to school for a two-year degree in the secretarial field, I read a flier that said NASA was looking for employees through a cooperative education program. I thought, "What the heck. I'll give it a try." To my amazement, I was hired, one of the last two secretarial co-ops.

Timing was on my side! I actually made a choice and things were happening. I think all of Brevard County heard my scream when I got that call and was offered a job. I can honestly say that I was not one of those kids growing up dreaming about a job with NASA. But here I was, going to work for NASA.

More:Starting A Business With An 8-Year-Old? This Mom Did

I was so fortunate to be assigned to the Safety and Mission Assurance branch for ISS. I finished my degree, with honors, and was offered a full-time position. Now I think all of Florida heard me scream!

I worked very hard at my job, while loving every minute of it. I truly could never have imagined how exciting and fun my job would be. I was actually enjoying going to work. I was starting to feel that there had to be more. For the first time in my life, I actually felt the need to learn more. I loved what our branch did, and I wanted to become a part of that team.

Every opportunity I had, I took technical classes that NASA offered, and then I decided it was time to go back to school. This time I graduated with my two-year degree in aerospace technology.

I pursued the opportunity to become a quality assurance specialist, only to hit brick walls along the way. I was told secretaries cannot move over to the technical field -- it just does not happen.

But I was determined and not giving up. After all, I was now making the choices to live my life.

I continued to push through the barriers and found the right people who believed in me and saw what I could do and what I was capable of, and here I am 11 years later, having fun at NASA as a journeyman-level quality assurance specialist.

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