Meet Alumna Dr. Kathleen D. Dejwakh ’09, NASA

Name:  Dr. Kathleen D. Dejwakh

Class Year: 2009

Title: Computer Engineer, Data Management Team Lead, CERES Science Team

Organization:  NASA


1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?  

I oversee the production of publicly available data products, generated from data collected by NASA and NOAA Earth observing satellites, that constitute a twenty-year and ongoing climate data record of Earth.


2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decided it was a good fit for you?
I suppose that you could say that this is my first “real” job since graduating from Holy Cross, since I was in graduate school and engaged in a brief post-doctoral opportunity for so long (2009-2017). When I think about it, each transition made sense, but it was mostly serendipity that got me here.

Attending a graduate school so close to a NASA center, (NASA Langley Research Center), was certainly lucky. As I found that I needed supplemental income, I planned on finding an internship type of opportunity, transitioning out of my graduate program in computer graphics. Since I wanted to expand my concept of the types of imagery I could work with, I applied for and obtained a position as a NASA DEVELOP participant, working with Earth observation data. Comparing this more academia-like experience to a previous industry internship that I’d had, I became certain that I wanted to work in a sector that had more direct benefit to humanity and the environment. So, I applied for a civil service position at NASA and was selected.


3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?  

I participated in several clubs and activities while on campus: S.P.U.D., liturgical ministry (lector coordinator), Sailing Club, Bishop Healy Multicultural Club, and Math/C.S. Student Advisory Council.


4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?  

I majored in Computer Science simply because I enjoyed the classes. I really didn’t have a career goal in mind, at the time. The part-logic, part-creativity involved in creating programs felt really satisfying. It just so happened that it is a hot market for software engineers out there.


5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work? 

First off, I would say that I employ mindfulness and empathy day-to-day. Practicing the motto and spiritual cultivation at Holy Cross strengthened in me the importance of being kind to myself and understanding of others, and the bigger picture. Secondly, I use those core Computer Science classes of algorithms, data structures, and programming. They’re the backbone of software engineering! What can I say.


6. What advice do you have for students today?

I think the best career for someone would be not just what they enjoy, but what they’re good at. To figure that out, you probably have to cast a wide net in school. Don’t be afraid to do that, change with time, cross things off of your list, and envision a career-path that may play to multiple strengths at once or in sequence. Sometimes…you even have to create a niche for yourself. There are no rules.