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  • Writer's pictureSpotlight News Hampton Roads

United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.

Image Courtesy of Kelly Murphy

Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Kelly Murphy.

Affiliation(s) (past and present):

NASA Langley Research Center, Big Pink Music

How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?

Engineering: After completion of three internship assignments at NASA Langley and a Bachelor's Degree in Aerospace Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I began working full time as an experimental research engineer in Langley's Aerothermodynamics Branch. in 1994, I completed a year of graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin, later completing a Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering. I worked over 25 years conducting complex wind tunnel tests studying high speed aerodynamic characteristics of future space transportation concepts. In 2017 I assumed leadership of the branch, managing its people, work, resources, and strategic plan.

Music: After spending a year in Austin, TX for graduate and mentoring with in-home music presenters, I returned to Hampton Roads and started the region's first house concert series, hosting hundred of acoustic performers over the course of 20 years. From 2008-2017, I directed the multi-day Sea Level Singer/Songwriter in Norfolk, Virginia to raise funds and awareness for the non-profit arts/health care organization Tidewater Arts Outreach. For the last several years, I've lead the non-profit Big Pink Music as founder and board president to support local musicians in a member-supported listening room environment.

How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?

Since 1991

What advice would you give young women going into your field?

Do not be afraid to bring your whole self to your work. Your success will not be only a function of developing superior technical expertise, but also keen communication and people skills to earn trust and respect and to build effective, diverse teams. Seek out and learn from constructive feedback, but do not be rattled by insecure, negative coworkers, remembering the sage observation that "judgement is a confession character."

Does your gender influence your relationship to your work? In what way?

I'm sure gender must have had an influence on my work as I was the first female engineer hired into the branch in 1991. By general observation/comparison, I think I was not as singularly "defined' by my job as my male counterparts. I developed other skills and passions outside of work which ended up allowing me to bring a diversity of thought and management style that now proves valuable to the organization I now lead.

Have you faced challenges in your field because of your gender or have you found your gender to be an asset? What kinds of challenges or advantages, and how have they affected your life?

In my engineering career, there were definitely both advantages and challenges associated with gender. In the late 80s and early 90s, being a female in engineering was a definite hiring advantage as there was a strong push to diversify the work force at NASA. But being a young female in a male-dominated work culture was certainly a challenge. At times I felt like a bit like an alien, and I did have to deal with some unfortunate behavior of male coworkers, mostly relating to degrading language. Imposter syndrome is real when you are young and inexperienced, but there were also many generous and kind coworkers who provided great mentoring and support. I do think facing and overcoming challenges in my NASA work has built confidence in other areas of my life.

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