Alum Michelle Curtis: How to Get a Job at NASA
For the record, locking up a position at NASA’s Johnson Space Center isn’t easy.
It took 2009 MPA graduate Michelle Curtis two phone calls and six in-person interviews to secure her job as a policy analyst, and that doesn’t take into account the lengthy online application process. Landing a desk came down to a combination of real-world experience, an ally in the Marriott School of Management’s Business Career Center, and a robust network of MPA alumni.
Curtis got her experience between her first and second year in the MPA program, interning with the California State Department of Finance. Her undergraduate background in biology was an asset when she was asked to research fiscal solutions for the San Joaquin River Delta—a major source of freshwater in the region.
She returned to the Marriott School to finish her last year and hit it off with a visiting NASA manager, who wasn’t able to recruit because of a hiring freeze. After graduation in April 2009, Curtis moved back to DC and kept looking for a job.
Then one day, an email from Tanya Harmon in the Business Career Center popped into Curtis’s inbox. A new opportunity at NASA had opened up. Curtis immediately emailed the manager she’d interviewed with to let him know she was still very interested. He helped direct her to the right channels.
Finally, she cashed in on the network she’d built in the program and while working as a student in the Romney Institute’s alumni relations office. Ben Hewitt, who was a year ahead of Curtis in the program, was already employed at NASA when Curtis began the interview process. Curtis reached out, and Hewitt helped her run through mock interviews. “It’s so important to maintain your network,” Curtis says. “Staying in touch can open up opportunities.”
But her BYU ties didn’t just get her foot in the door. The practical nature of the MPA program has helped Curtis continue to advance.
“When you’re working you’ll be asked to learn new software or a new process, and you’ve got to be able to learn it thoroughly and quickly,” she says. “The Marriott School taught me how to learn and understand problems from a business perspective.”