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Meet: Robert Kerczewski

photo of Robert Kerczewski

Project Manager, Space Based Technologies
Glenn Research Center

Who I am and what I do:
I am the Project Manager for a project called Space Based Technologies. Our project is trying to develop better ways for aircraft to communicate with people and computers on the ground. As more aircraft crowd the skies, we need more and better information communicated between aircraft, and between aircraft and ground facilities, to keep flying safe and efficient.

Some of my activities include:

  • Writing plans for the project: I have to plan what work we will do, who will do it and how and when, and what kind of "products" we will have at the end, and balance the money we are given to spend across several years of project activities. Many things change as the Project goes on, especially the availability of money, and so our plans must be constantly updated.
  • Monitoring the progress of the project: We have many people at NASA, as well as at companies, universities, and other government agencies who work on our project. I watch their progress, look for problems and try to solve them before they become big problems, and work to coordinate all these activities so everyone is working together.
  • Reporting our work: I must constantly report the progress of our project - our goals is to have as many people as possible use our Project's products. In addition to posting our results on our web site, I also travel around the country and sometimes to foreign countries to talk about our Project and to find ways to work together with other organizations.

Areas of expertise:
I think there are two types of skills required for this job.

The first type is technical skills: Solid science/engineering education and experience are needed because you really must be able to understand a very broad range of technical activities that you are trying to manage. Every day I come across new technologies or technical ideas, and I must understand these and add them into my personal knowledge base, and be able to add them into my project.

The second type is organizational skills: How to organize and manage many simultaneous tasks; how to deal with different organizations, not just NASA but industrial, government and academic organizations as well; and how to deal with people, treating everyone as a unique and valuable individual, and working with people from different countries and cultures.

How I first became interested in this profession
The truth is, I really always loved studying history, but I didn't think I could make a good living that way. So being very adept at math and science I decided to study engineering, which I thought would offer a good career. I never really thought about working at NASA until I graduated and had an opportunity to work for a contractor at the NASA Glenn Research Center. After a few years of working for the contractor, I joined the NASA staff.

I think I was very lucky to find myself working at NASA. I have been involved in many different, interesting things during my career here, and now I am managing a very exciting project in aviation.

What helped me prepare for this job
Of course, education is the key ingredient in preparing for this job. Even with university degrees and many years of experience as an engineer, principal investigator, and project manager, I must continuously invest some of my time in education. To me, education includes: taking classes at work, attending talks, lectures, presentations etc., attending conferences and seminars, reading and even surfing the web for information. But it also includes personal development, spending time on hobbies, travel, learning new skills and understanding and studying the broadest possible range of topics.

My role models or inspirations
My parents have been my most influential role models. Now I can see how I have learned my work ethic, perseverance, and attention to detail from them. Some of my NASA mentors, people who trained me here at NASA when I was fresh out of school and by now are retired, taught me a lot about professionalism and the importance of quality and integrity. I also have many inspirational role models for my personal life, especially people who have dedicated their lives to helping others (for example, Mother Theresa of Calcutta), who I hope to follow after my professional career is over.

My education and training
I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Cleveland State University, followed by a Master of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics from Case Western Reserve University. I also performed one year of post-graduate studies at the University of Southern California.

Career Path
I began my career for Analex Corporation performing research in satellite communications components. I then joined the NASA Glenn Research Center (it was called the Lewis Research Center at that time) and continued working in satellite communications areas, including studying and testing satellite communications systems and developing and performing experiments with NASA's Advanced Communications Technology Satellite, which was launched into orbit in 1993. Later I developed a telemedicine project, using the satellite to send radiology images from remote places to major medical facilities so that people in poor and remote places could have access to good medical care. These smaller experiments and projects prepared me for managing bigger projects later on.

From the medical field I next veered into aviation when we realized the need for better communications for aircraft. I was deputy manager for a project that pioneered new ways to send weather information to aircraft to reduce aviation accidents caused by weather. Then I became manager of a project that developed ways to apply satellite communications to send data to and from aircraft. So now in my present job as project manager, I use my knowledge of communications and how to apply communications technologies to solve diverse problems, as well as my past experience in managing different types of experiments and projects, and combine that with an on-going education in how aviation and management of air traffic works.

What I like best about my job
The best things about my job are the opportunities to work on many different disciplines (for example, satellite communications, medicine, aviation), working on solving real-world problems and doing things that make a difference, being at the cutting edge of new technology, and meeting and working with incredibly diverse people from all over the world.

What I like least about my job
The worst thing about my job is the uncertainty regarding the future. We never know what will happen next year or next month or even next week, Congress or the President or the leaders of NASA constantly change our budget and create many other issuess which affect my job. A well developed plan is invalid almost as soon as it's finished, so constant replanning is necessary. It's very wasteful, and sometimes very discouraging. It takes a lot to keep going sometimes.

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Three pieces of advice I can offer: First, if you can concentrate on only one thing in school, work hard on mathematics as early as you can in your life, it will make everything that comes after much easier. Second, dedicate yourself to every job you ever take on in your life with your whole heart - I don't mean kill yourself, just always do work you are proud of. It will be recognized and better opportunities will be given to you. Third, look for ways to fill needs, take on jobs or responsibilities that really need to be done but no one else wants to do. Again, it will be recognized and lead to better opportunities

I always want to tell people about the value of travel, especially international travel. There's nothing you can learn in school or on the job that is as valuable - seeing new places and people and especially learning first hand different ways of doing things, different ways of thinking about things, different problems and solutions, observing the broad range of human conditions, the amazing beauty and diversity of the natural world. The smartest, most interesting, most accomplished, and happiest people I know are those who travel the most.


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