Meet Mark E. Kilkenny
Program Planning Specialist, Lewis Research Center
Who I Am
I am a Program Planning Specialist at Lewis Research Center. I have been
here since 1997, when I transferred from NASA Headquarters. My job is
to help conduct strategic planning for Lewis and assess their progress
towards its long-term goals and objectives. Because of my education and
experience, my focus is on the Center's Administrative and Business operations
(as opposed to its technical activities).
My Career Path
This is my third career at NASA. I spent my first 16 years as a Contract
Specialist/Procurement Manager, five years at NASA-Dryden, and 11 years
in the NASA Headquarters Procurement Office. Then I spent seven years
working for the NASA Headquarters Office of Aeronautics and Space Transportation
Technology as its International Programs Specialist.
Like many, I slid into these careers. In high school,
I was good in all subjects, but liked History and Science best. My first
intended college major was Zoology, until I got a C in Chemistry and divined
that God was telling me something. So I changed to Paleontology, but bailed
out of that when I decided I didn't want to work for oil companies. I
shifted to Archaeology, but dropped it when I learned that only low-paid
college lecturing and living in tents in summers was in store. Political
Science was close to History, and seemed to offer me a good route into
the Foreign Service or some other good government job, so I declared it
in my sophomore year. By the end of my junior year, I had enough Political
Science credits to graduate so I added a second major, Economics, to enhance
my job prospects. (With better foresight, I could have added a third major
in Geography.) In spite of these twists and turns, I graduated with honors
in both majors in four years (working during the summers) from one of
the top public universities in the country (University of California at
When I got out of college, I tried to get into the
Foreign Service. Although I passed the written exam five times (in six
tries), I did not pass the oral exam (in five tries). In the meantime,
I took the old Federal Service Entrance Exam twice and eventually was
offered several jobs—one at the Government Printing Office, one at the
General Services Administration, one as an analyst at the Central Intelligence
Agency (they had a lot of really weird additional tests!), and one as
a Contract Specialist at NASA-Dryden. I accepted the NASA job, even though
I had never taken a business class and knew nothing about purchasing.
I did fairly well in this career, but eventually got bored with it.
So I took my contracts experience and parlayed it
into an interesting job dealing with international agreements (which drew
me closer to my academic studies). I liked this job very much, but eventually
had to find something else to advance my career. So I parlayed that experience
into the one I currently have; which after all these years seems to be
the one best suited for my personality (INTJ on the Myers-Briggs scale).
My advancement prospects are hazy, but for the time being, I am content.
What I Like About my Job
I have had a secure position in interesting places in the best agency
in the world and get to work with many interesting people doing interesting
things. I like to think that I have had a strong, positive impact on the
organizations I have served and have given U.S. taxpayers their money's
For my first seven years at NASA, grade and salary-wise,
my career went very well. Since, then I have been on a "slow-boat to China".
It is not that my achievements have diminished, it is just that positions
above GS-14 are very limited - especially outside Washington, DC. I have
had the experience of watching people I hired and trained, and people
of lesser accomplishments (but better skill at influencing people) promoted
higher than me. But others face this all the time, so I, like them, have
had to learn to get over it and move on!
As a Child
I am a polymath. To this very day I read the Encyclopedia Britannica for
enjoyment and edification. I "surf the net" at least an hour each day.
I watch a lot of television and go to a lot of movies- especially sci-fi.
I remember a lot of the "Brit-Lit" and "Am-Lit" I studied in high school
and college. Before college, I was collecting insects, rocks, amphibians,
reptiles, fossils and coins. I have always liked planes, rockets and everything
associated with NASA. Indeed, my first memory of reading a newspaper was
when Sputnik was launched by the Russians and the "Space Race" begun.
Since I was a teenager, I have been a connoisseur of castles (especially
Crusader castles in the Holy Land), and as an adult I am researching and
creating a definitive database on seaplanes (floatplanes, flying boats,
etc.). I play the piano. I don't think any of these interests have directly
impacted my career, but indirectly they have helped keep me open to the
possibilities that I have encountered.
Learn about who you are--- sooner is better than later. Complete a Myers-Briggs
profile and other personality tests and HONESTLY answer their questions.
Learn about what jobs your personality type, intellectual interests and
other personal characteristics are best suited for. Then pick the career
path which best, realistically fits the bill (remember, no sense in studying
to be a ballerina if you are 6'5" and weigh 300 pounds!). Leave yourself
enough room to change instead of getting locked into something you don't
like. Also, remember that most people DO change - not because of others,
but in spite of them, and because of something inside themselves.
When I was very young, my two imaginary grown-up male heroes were my role
models. In junior high, the NASA astronauts were my role models. In high
school and college, it was Henry Kissinger. Since then, I have been my
own role model. I have learned as much from BAD teachers and supervisors
as GOOD ones. Marriage has also taught me much about getting along with
others and setting one's priorities straight.
Since there never is enough money, and I always seem broke, I will probably
work full-time at least twenty more years (health permitting), and then
taper off to full retirement when I am 75 years old or so.