Sky’s the Limit for MPA Alum

“Reach for the stars” is a figurative goal for most of us, but for Kevin Watts, a 1986 graduate of the BYU Masters of Public Administration program, it is an everyday reality.

Watts, originally from Salt Lake City, has worked at NASA for thirty years. He graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in geology in 1983 before completing BYU’s MPA program. Watts attributes his longevity with NASA to the innovative environment and his background in science.

“There is so much going on that is just so cutting-edge and interesting,” Watts says. “With a degree in geology and an interest in engineering and all things space, I just love everything that goes on around me.”

While attending the Marriott School, Watts stumbled across a chance to apply for a NASA internship—for him it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I had always been really enthusiastic about NASA,” Watts says. “When I saw an avenue after graduation that might take me there, I knew I had to take it. I was in the right place at the right time. I never really thought I would be able to work for NASA, but I am so thankful I have.”

Watts started working at NASA as a presidential management intern, choosing the Johnson Space Center in Houston as his landing place. After his internship he worked as a resource analyst, dealing with budgets and department funding for about one year.

Watts then moved with his family to Washington, DC, and got involved with the space station program. This paved the way for him to start working with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on a laboratory module for the International Space Station.

“I have been very fortunate to put a lot of time into the development of the space station,” Watts says. “I also speak Japanese so I was able to work in that arena for many years and facilitate many of the agreements that took place in order for Japan to supply the module to the space station that they built.“

Eventually Watts became the Japanese space station liaison and moved his family to Tsukuba, Japan, for three years. He helped to get the space station module constructed and operable, ready to help continue the research on the International Space Station.

Watts has worked in many capacities over the years, including project management, payload management, and contracting management. Eventually, Watts was pulled back home to the Johnson Space Center, where he is currently working to launch a human exploration mission to Mars.

Watts has loved the chance to be part of the scientific and engineering contributions that NASA has made over the years. He believes that such advancements have potential to change our perception of the world and how we can improve life on earth.

“I have been right in the middle of major space station programs, and now I am working in the office that plans human missions to Mars,” Watts says. “I just really love the work because there is always something cool going on.”