official blog

The  Woman Behind the World’s Most Powerful Rocket: Boeing’s Jennifer Boland-Masterson

Underway at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans is the NASA Space Launch System (SLS), the new heavy-lift rocket that will launch crew and cargo to the moon and Mars. It’s the world’s most powerful rocket. Jennifer Boland-Masterson, director of Boeing’s MAF Production Operations, manages the team building the core stages and Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), a mammoth job replete with moving parts and high expectations.

We checked in with Boland-Masterson about how job seekers can best position themselves for a career in advanced manufacturing, what she looks for in a new hire, the value of mentors — and the one piece of advice she’d tell her younger self.

You’ve talked about how important it is to work as a team on any project, especially one as big as the SLS. What are the characteristics of a good team and how does it help get things done in the workplace?

The foundation of any good team is a common mission, and for us, that’s about helping NASA return humans to deep space. HOW you do that job is also part of the mission. Safety, quality, and integrity drive every decision, from who we hire to how we turn a bolt, design the factory, purchase services and supplies. Those values build trust in each other, with our partners and with our customer. It sounds simple, but there are a lot of building blocks to that when you have a complex system. Everyone needs to understand their place in achieving the team goal, and commit to doing those things safely, with integrity and a focus on first-time quality.

Women make up almost half of the American workforce, but in the manufacturing sector, where you’ve built your career, women comprise just one-third. How can women job seekers best position themselves for a career in manufacturing?

Look for opportunities in education, in your family, community and company to learn more about your field of interest. Find like-minded people with similar interests and develop that support network. There are absolutely opportunities out there in the manufacturing sector. The nation’s workforce needs are evolving; America will need to add 3.5 million more STEM professionals by 2025. It’s critical that we encourage STEM degrees for women and other underserved populations. In 2019, Boeing partnered with more than 236 STEM organizations and contributed nearly $30 million toward community initiatives that helped inspire an estimated 1 million young women in STEM. Over the past eight years, Boeing and The Boeing Charitable Trust have contributed $186 million toward community initiatives that have had a positive impact on 6 million young women and girls around the world.

Over the last few years, Boeing’s STEM Signing Days have given shout-outs to high school graduates in several cities who commit to a two- or four-year degree in a STEM field. Why is it important to encourage young people at this stage to pursue a STEM career?

Just like signing days for athletes, STEM Signing Days celebrate high school seniors from across the country as they make commitments to some of the country’s top technical schools, colleges and universities. The goal of STEM Signing Day is to inspire students to pursue STEM careers and recognize their commitment to their STEM education.

STEM disciplines help create and innovate– two of the core principles The Boeing Company uses every day in making world-class products. All students should have opportunities to develop their skills, fulfill their dreams and build something better. That’s why it’s also important to recognize the parents, guardians, teachers, career counselors and mentors who support students in furthering their education and pursuing meaningful careers in STEM.

We’ve heard that you’ve actually moved many of your staff’s offices to the production floor at MAF, where teams work alongside the massive SLS hardware for the world’s most powerful rocket. Why was that an important move?

SLS core stages and the Exploration Upper Stage are evolving programs, so nothing we do is routine. We’ve completed the first core stage, and we’re now implementing lessons learned on the second core stage, as we work to streamline production of future core stages. Having engineers and support teams ‘shipside’ with our technicians means we can immediately address anything that comes up, whether that’s a question about a design, or an idea about how we can do something better: more safely, or more efficiently. It’s been tremendous. Technicians are learning from engineers, and the engineers are learning from the technicians.

What do you look for in a new hire?

A great attitude. We have an incredible team that can train people to be the best at what they do, but you have to be willing to learn — constantly learn. Continuous improvement is how we do our jobs every day, looking for ways to do it more safely, or more efficiently, or for better outcomes for the next step in the process. Part of a great attitude is being a great teammate. It’s important to look out for each other in a production environment, where we’re pushing hard to deliver for our customer. We have to do every task with our mission in mind – to build a safe and reliable rocket for NASA.

Did you have a mentor as a young professional, and do you suggest others pursue a mentor-mentee relationship?

I have had several mentors in my career, and I still do. These mentors have helped me become who I am.  They have provided a safe zone for thinking through complex problems, making career decisions, working through a difficult time with individuals and providing advice on unique situations. Most importantly, they were just there to listen. You absolutely should pursue a mentor-mentee relationship. You may not hit on the right combination the first time out, but it’s worth the effort to try again. Find diverse mentors, take responsibility for the agenda, and put real thought into what it is that you need at different points in your career. I’ve found it to be rewarding, and have maintained some of those relationships for about 10 years.

How do you persist on the job, even when you face significant challenges?

To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, “It is not the critic who counts; … the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs,… who at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly…” It speaks to what we’re doing here – daring greatly – and sweating through some very difficult challenges. We are striving to build the world’s most powerful rocket from the ground up, in a 70-year-old factory, in a test as you fly environment. That means that the first rocket we build, we’ll launch – no prototypes. The men and women here are passionate about what they’re doing and are sacrificing a great deal to do it. We got to experience that victory at our rollout in January, and it’s given us a taste for more. We’re going to learn, and get better every day, because daring greatly is its own reward.

If you could go back in time, what single piece of advice would you share with your younger self?

Hang in there, and give yourself a break. If you’re not failing occasionally, you’re not challenging yourself. Surround yourself with people who support your dreams and goals. All that hard work is so worth it to achieve the things that are important to you.

Interested in taking Jennifer Boland-Masterson’s advice and applying it to a career in advanced manufacturing? Check out Louisiana Job Connection.  You can also check out Boeing’s jobs too by clicking here!