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Maybe It IS Rocket Science


Dr. Tara Ruttley: I’ve loved space since probably I was in 3rd grade. I remember there were lots of spacewalks that I used to watch on TV. And the astronauts and their big white spacesuits and the big American flag on the side. Just made it look like something I wanted to be a part of. That or dinosaurs I'm just saying, everybody loves dinosaurs.


Debra Ruttley: Tara is very loyal, she never gives up on anything, she’s dependable, she’s funny, she’s dedicated, and she loves space.


Avenelle Turner: Tara has never wanted to be anything but an astronaut and work for NASA. Space camp is something I learned about from her. I actually thought it was just in the movie. And she’s the one that taught me that actually, you can go to space camp.


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Reporter: Tara Ruttley was 11 years old when she first saw the movie Space Camp. She thought that such a place couldn't be real.


Dr. Tara Ruttley: We didn't have internet back then. So, I go through the phone books and sure enough. I found that there is a space gap and it's real and it’s in Huntsville Alabama. So, for a few years, I would send out the catalogs and they would send them back to me with the dates and the price.


Reporter: Tara expressed her wish to attend space camp to her parents, but it was more than they could afford at the time. Over the next few years, Tara's parents began saving the money to send her to space camp. Finally, Tara was able to attend the summer of her junior year in high school.


Dr. Tara Ruttley: If I look at my life like a flatline, December of my junior year would go beep. What it really was, was magical. You walked into this big building with all these space toys everywhere. And you get to use them and not only do you get to use them, you get to be a part of the team that uses them in synchrony. All the kids feel the same way you do. They love space, they want to be here, they're interested. So, you've immediately found your family of others you didn't know existed. Just like you, it was the one thing in my life that has the biggest influence on me throughout the rest of my career, I think.


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David Ruttley: Space camp was a catalyst. I mean that started it. That was the best money I ever sent.


Reporter: After high school, Tara briefly attended Michigan State University before transferring to Colorado State. During the transition period, Tara came back to space camp to work as a counselor alongside her now-husband, and childhood sweetheart Paul. Who himself was working as a counselor for aviation challenge.


Paul Colosky: It's one of those transition periods that worked out really good for us. She was doing what she wanted to do and what she's passionate about on the space side.

It was a fun time.


Reporter: Once at Colorado State University, Tara continued to pursue her dreams by getting her Bachelor of Science in Biology and a master's in chemical engineering. Then in 2001, Tara was with some fellow college students in Houston, Texas doing parabolic flight science experiments. While there Tara attended a job fair at Johnson Space Center.


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Dr. Tara Ruttley: I applied thinking ah. and I actually got a phone call two days later, while I was still here in Houston, there was a brand-new organization opening up called the Biomedical Systems Division, and they needed someone with a biology and engineering background. So, talk about the preparation meeting opportunity. That's the perfect example. And that's how I ended up at NASA.


Reporter: Since coming to NASA Tara has advanced within her career. In July 2004 she became an aquanaut working on the Nemo six program where she lived and worked underwater for 10 days. She also found the time to get her Ph.D. in neuroscience graduating from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 2007. Tara now works as the Associate Program Scientist for the International Space Station at Johnson Space Center.


Dr. Tara Ruttley: I work with the chief scientist for the space station program to ensure that all the research gets done on the space station that’s supposed to get done. It’s done in a way that pleases the researchers and gets the best value back to the community here on earth.


Reporter: With dreams of still going to space herself, Tara likes to encourage STEM education any chance she gets, especially for young girls like her own daughter.


Dr. Tara Ruttley: The value in encouraging STEM education and training is that you are providing an investment in our future.


David Ruttley: Most of those kids come back, I want to be like her. Like how did she start? The first thing we all say, she went to space camp, and tell those space camp stories.


Dr. Tara Ruttley: To be inducted in this space camp hall of fame is pretty cool. I think I'm joining a group of really great professionals who loves space just as much or more if it's possible than I do. Now, I feel like it's really great to be honored and be a part of that group, who can help work together and keep that momentum going and keep investing and reinvesting into the programs.


Avenelle Turner: She actually said what she wanted to do when we were very young, and she set out and she completed it. There is not a better person or more deserving than Tara to be inducted into the hall of fame.


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Juanita Coley: Hey, hey, hey, and welcome to Call Centre Chronicles. I am super excited. I am Juanita Coley, I am your host and founder of Solid Rock Consulting, where we help call centers implementing new technology, optimize the technology they currently have in place, and build better workforce and management teams. We are absolutely on a mission to normalize women in tech, as well as women in workforce management leadership roles. And so, we believe that that starts with a conversation. So, I am super, super excited to have you on our inaugural show, none other than Tara Ruttley. Call Center Chronicles is a place for CEOs, call center professionals, tech leaders that are looking to have fun, yet thought-provoking conversation around how do we improve customer experience as well as the company's bottom line. And so, I wanted to have a conversation with Tara today. On how she's been doing as far as NASA is concerned. So, I am going to let Tara introduced herself as I bring her on here momentarily. Hey Tara, I told you I'm not the tech person, right?


Dr. Tara Ruttley: You did great. That was a great smooth transition. It only felt long, it wasn't really long.


Juanita Coley: So, I promised you, I told you earlier. I am going to try not to fangirl too much, but I am super thrilled to have you on our inaugural show of Call Center Chronicles because as you already know, one of our missions is to pioneer in the space of normalizing women in tech and the workforce management leadership roles. And so, I thought, who better to have on the show, than Tara, I heard you talking in the clubhouse and I was just so blown away at all of the things that you were saying. I was like, I have to interview her. So, tell us more about you, Tara, and what you do at NASA?


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Dr. Tara Ruttley: First I need Kleenex; I wasn't prepared for that. I haven't seen that video in like two or three years. I forgot all those people said all those nice things about me. That’s crazy. I have been wanted to work at NASA since I was a kid and like literally like third grade. So, before space camp and one of the cool things about that video is that night I was inducted in the Hall of Fame, I was actually given my award by the director of the movie space camp like 30 years ago, it was really cool. Thanks for inviting me. I have to clarify; this is your very first episode.


Juanita Coley: It is the very first episode. So, it’s going to be good.


Dr. Tara Ruttley: It’s going to be hard to beat. I’ve never been anybody’s first episode. So, let’s do this.


Juanita Coley: Let’s do it. Alright cool. So, we're going to hop right in. I want to be respectful of everyone's time and make sure that we did, I wanted to dig deep into some good questions that are already prepared for you. Alright, so we already know that you work at NASA. So, tell me a little bit more about what you actually do at NASA and what was your journey like getting into NASA? We know you've been dreaming about its since you were three.


Dr. Tara Ruttley: Thank you for the question. I now am in Washington DC. And I work in the chief scientists' office at NASA. The NASA Chief scientist’s office. His name is Jim Green. So, he’s, my chief. And I represent all of the space stations and human exploration type science that goes on at NASA and in our office. So, I work on things ranging from the space station to the moon, and even benefits that come from space on earth that we feel on earth. My journey to NASA has been super, super fun. I've always wanted to be an astronaut and I learned really young on a field trip. I grew up in Louisiana, southern Louisiana. And I always wanted to work for NASA. And they always told me well, then you need to be an engineer when you study hard and do great in math. And you need to be an engineer. Because most of NASA's people are engineers. And it turns out, I really liked science more than engineering and math were okay. But I was really honestly a C student in math, that wasn't my thing.


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And so, in high school, we took three-hour field trips to the Johnson Space Center. And I got to actually meet an astronaut. And I got to ask, what does it take to be an astronaut, and he told me, it's a really challenging thing, not everyone gets accepted to be an astronaut, it's kind of sometimes luck of the draw, he said so make sure you do what you love, don’t just do something and put on a resume, because you think it might help, it might look good, because before you know it, time will fly, and you're going to want to spend your life doing something that really, really interested you was really important to you. And he said, you can apply to be an astronaut, we like happy successful experts, you know, and so I love science if that's what you want. So that's what I ended up doing. I went to college in science and majored in science. And while there, I met some engineering students, that helped me develop some of my ideas that I had for space because I was a science major biology, but I had all these ideas for an exercise machine in space, but I didn't know how to build one or design one.


So, I met these students, we got to put together we came up with some great designs for exercise equipment in a space that we get to test at NASA. And when I was about to graduate, I was with my bachelor's in biology, I was planning to get my Ph.D. straight into neuroscience. But the students, my student counterparts actually said, take a detour and maybe consider mechanical engineering do the master’s in mechanical engineering, I'm like, are you kidding me? First of all, that’s more math, and second of all, third of all, that's more math, and I'm not an engineer, I'm a science brain person. But they talked me into it. The key here is to just keep an open mind. Sometimes others see things for you that you don't see, one of the tricks and tips in life is figuring out is listening to others sometimes and don't say no, just say yes and then deal with it later. And so, I did, and that's how I ended up getting my master's in mechanical engineering. And interestingly enough, that's how NASA ended up hiring me. They wanted someone who had both backgrounds in biology and mechanical engineer. And I actually ended up starting in NASA as an engineer.


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But it was a fun, fun job. And concurrently, I worked on my Ph.D. at the same time at the University of Texas medical branch. I was commuting 30 minutes, every day to finish that degree. And I finished that on time. Two weeks later, I gave birth to my daughter, who's now almost 14 next week, a