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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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, and, and I finished my Ph.D. and then decided to go into space station science. So, I went to the science office where I got to meet people, scientists from around the world, worked with the chief scientists there. It was super fun, I got to help train astronauts on some of the science they were planning to do for Space Station, work on some science communication courses, but to the public about, you know why we do things on the space station, why space is important. And, and I did that for almost 10 years. In the process of that though, I kept applying to be an astronaut. And I kept getting rejected. So, I collected the little rejection postcards. I’m like wow a postcard from NASA.
A couple of years ago I did get through the hardest parts of the interview. I got actually pulled down to Boston Space Center where I live. And I and 10 others had a weeklong interview, and I got to meet the others who were applying. And it was a time of my life, I felt like everything I’ve ever done, has prepared me for that week, there were no regrets. Of course, I wasn’t chosen. Ultimately, I think there were 12000 applicants, they interviewed 120 of us and they only picked eight. But the eight that they picked are amazing. I can’t be mad and bitter about that because they’re a great group. And I will say also the other nine other people that were in my interview week, we were looking at each other like how did I get here, why me, we all have this imposter syndrome, right like and then we’re going like googling each other and saying, you know, you’re saying you have a Wikipedia page, and you started a business and so even the people you think should know better? Like we don’t we’re just we’re all normal, everyday people. And we all have this thing in the back of our head where you know me, really me?
And of course, you, why not you, who else? So, I got to meet some really great people. And so, two years ago, I got a call from NASA headquarters, asking me if I would like to work in NASA’s chief scientists’ office here, to represent the space station and human exploration research that we do at NASA, the highest level of the agency at the administrative level. And my family was ready for a new adventure. And they said yes. And I was ready for something new too. Here we are I’m sitting in my own mission control, like everyone else around the world right now. DC has been great. And that is a very long, but yet abbreviated story of how I got to where I am now.
Juanita Coley: No, that’s so good. And you have, I have to do this because the production team works so hard on this, but you drop so many gems. Two that you said that it stuck out to me and I’m going to do this. It’s going to be corny right. One you said you never say no. So always say yes. And you also said, listen to other people. So, you ended up getting multiple degrees. Starting off one in one lane and going to another because you were able to listen in and get wisdom. So, you dropped that gem that I absolutely thought was fantabulous. I have to do that. So sorry, excuse my corniness.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: I love it.
Juanita Coley: That was so insightful. And just, you know, what you do and also, you’re journey through to NASA and then also I think what was also interesting is how you were able to pivot. I think that was fundamental and is so key, it’s essential to where probably you’ve been in your career, and how you’re still moving throughout your career is your ability to pivot. You know, one of the other questions that I have for you, is kind of going to actually lean on this question was, you said that you have some challenging things and in you’ve applied to the NASA program, to the astronaut programs over and over and over and you just continue to get the no, the no, the no, but you kept doing that. So, one of the questions that I had was to tell us about one of the most challenging things that you had to overcome in your career? And how did you overcome it? How did you keep getting told no, and just keep applying? Even if that wasn’t the most challenging? I would love to kind of hear your answer on that.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: Gosh, this is like an interview question, and not prepared for the most challenging part of my career. I should have a ready answer, but I really think it is this whole astronaut interview process. You know, when you had a dream for so long, from third grade, and onward, you’d wonder if it’s the best fit, your dream gets shut down early for reasons that are out of your control. To save your sanity, or its best that you keep dreaming and hoping and dreaming and never give up. And then when do you draw the line, like when you decide this childhood dream needs to go. And so, the challenge for me and my whole career and in fact, mostly since that interview period, which was probably seven years ago, or eight years ago, the last seven years, I’ve been having a blast at my job and the back of my mind, the question is when are you going to give up this silly childhood dream. And that’s the voice you’re always fighting with. Because it’s because you give up when you hear people saying never quit. Don’t give up. Never quit, don’t give up. But it’s like where’s reality? And where’s, you know, where is, pragmatically I should just move on, right, move on with my life.
But what if, what if? So? So right this minute, I’m in the astronaut application process again. And it is not weeklong. It is like a year or two, period of stuff. So, I am sitting with everybody else on the edge of my chair wondering if we’ll get a phone call for an interview. And I’m fighting with that voice. But the other part of me is like, Well, why quit? why would I let myself out, let them do it? But it takes so much courage to put yourself out there and think it could be me, it could be when you know, your friends or family probably thinking you’re crazy. Now, as you get older, you know, your age, well there is no age limit. Mostly they take astronauts in a certain range, I’m moving past that range, so some have moved on, you know, and so, it takes a lot of courage to hope and visualize and, and, and, and put yourself out there thinking it’s possible. This is new to me. It really is like you could apply and apply but fighting that voice and knowing when to quit and I’m not ready to quit is the hardest challenge for me. I think. Whatever the outcomes of whatever the outcome is you have to be okay. And listen I’m like post 40. You’re probably going to Google and find out how old I really am? But like, I’m post 40. And I am still dreaming. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know. No, because what else are you going to do? Right? Do you have dreams? Keep moving don’t quit. If you quit right now.
This is the other thing. Someone told me the other day it gets the hardest. The closer you get; it gets the hardest. The closer you get; it gets harder and harder. And that’s when most people quit. But I don’t want to I don’t want to be that I want to push past it. Look at that, I love this party. I want to push past that. Why not, I’ve done a lot of trailblazing things before, I’ve done things I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to do before. I mean, it’s just, it was a blessing that no one was telling me to shut up and sit down. And just let me do my thing and what to do with me. So, for those of you out there who are thinking you’ve got this dream to do the next thing and Juanita you probably know because you develop this whole Call Center Chronicles and your company, you could have quit, you’re still close, you didn’t. There are people like you and I out there that are so close. Don’t quit.
Juanita Coley: Tara that’s so good and immediate makes me think about the show, right? Like, I think about how the reason I developed this show was because I wanted to, working in call centers, pretty much my entire career has been in call centers. So just a little bit about me. I picked up a book one day, I have been in call centers since I was 16, 17. Right? So, I was a teen mom, I was working at a call center, I picked up a book, it was called Blue pumpkin. It was a blue pumpkin manual, which is now the company’s variant. I said Mm I think this is interesting. It doesn’t take much for me I find lots of tacky things Interesting. So, I picked up the book and started reading it and said, Hey, I think I might be able to do this look workforce thing. I had no idea what I was doing. I started to configure the system and learn more about workforce management.
And the further they took me in this career path, I noticed that I could see people like me, you know, I didn’t see African American women that were in the call center, maybe we were agents we were phone customer service reps. But I didn’t see anyone that looks like me that when I was doing technology or running the workforce management departments. And so, it seems like the further are closer I got to leadership or the glass ceiling, so to speak, it was less than less that looked like me. And so, I started working in the call centers and developing workforce management teams and learning more about the technology and all of that good stuff. And then I started the company solid rock consulting. One of the goals at solid rock consulting is to do that normalized women in technology workforce management leadership roles. And so, when you say when do you give up this silly dream? The whole time of the company, I’ve been like so, is today the day?
It can be a challenge, just continuing to push the needle forward and push forward to say, Okay, are they going to take me seriously? Do I have the, you know, enough experience or whatever, day after day, just keep putting one foot in front of the next and just continue to keep pushing forward. And I think when you say the question about when do we give up the dream? When do we separate the dream from the reality is, it’s kind of like, you can’t, as much as I’m like, I’m done with this, let somebody else figure out who’s going to normalize women in tech and in call centers and all that stuff? It’s like right back in my lap.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: This was your calling. And so why not you and it’s a hard thing to believe is that it is you. It’s like me, but really, yeah Juanita you.
Juanita Coley: You’re going to do it; you’re going to do it. Man, that’s awesome. Tell me. Do you think having a diverse program, you said something that was key earlier, when you were talking about what you do at NASA, you’re talking about helping to make sure that the research gets done in an impactful way to the community on what’s important here on earth. That makes me think about why diversity is so important. Because or so I asked this question, why is that so important as far as that you are representing. What does that impact as far as the end results on what we get as a community from the research that you are doing and being diverse as part of that process?
Dr. Tara Ruttley: Thank you for the question. I was actually in an Undergraduate in the Ron McNair Scholars Program. And so, for those of you who know of undergraduates, that program takes accepts minority underrepresented low-income first-generation students and takes them and prepares them to go into graduate school to get graduate degrees. So, I am a student of that wonderful outreach program, which taught me about others and about representation and about the power of passion and, capability in an individual that really wants to make it happen. So to this day, I’m still part of that community. And I keep in touch with that community. And I speak with students all the time. So, I am very aware that my background, and my representation, my risk of representation matters to them, as they try to relate some of the things that I have gone through or who I am with how they, how they might go forward.
And I always tell them, there’s no right answer on how to go forward. It’s all you but in fact, for sure, one thing we’re big on here at NASA is diversity and diversity of thought, diversity of education, diversity of gender, ethnicity, race, those things are all colorful, and critical to keeping humans safe on this planet because we’re humanity, the whole purpose of the space program is to promote humanity and peaceful humanity. So not to say that NASA, you know, is perfect, by any means in their diversity. And in fact, I think that 11,000 engineers in the workforce at NASA and 23% are female, you know, so we saw, you know, the rest of the male, and of all the 11,000 engineers, only 6% are black, and 7%, Hispanic and 9% are Asian and Asian Pacific Islander.
So, one of my best friends, no cliche intended is black. And she’s, she’s worked with me for the past 10 years in NASA Space Station, and she sat right next to me, and we’ve had these conversations and, she has made me a better person, she’s made me more aware of when I’m putting panels together, that we need gender, we need color representation, we need the educational representation. And she will call me and point out when it’s not the case. And she will call someone at NASA and point it out when it’s not the case, and she has got me to call someone and point it out when it’s not the case, or to when I’m in the position to make those important choices that I have a clear mind on the importance of that.
And NASA is getting better at it. But honestly, it took help from my best friend who was able to help mentor me through a lot of that stuff and a lot of difficult conversations, and she’s had difficult conversations. And that’s the other part of working at NASA. They are absolutely 100% open to difficult conversations, especially in this area, especially in light of the civil unrest that we had last summer, we’ve had conversations, it’s been about a guy, and it made progress. So, I know, I know that as I was in the professional chain, here at work, and I’m in a position to help a fellow sister or brother who needs more representation or is an outstanding student or individual and is getting overlooked for one reason or another, I’m feeling like I’m getting better at being able to see through that, see past that and help that individual. And the higher I get the more I understand that it’s important and I have more influence and when I can use it I will.
Juanita Coley: Man, that’s excellent Tara. You said so many things that I say oh I have this question. Listen, you said so your friend, she helps point out to you when you know, the diversity is just not there, you’re having a panel. I think that’s so key because the one you have a sounding board, you have people that are in your circle that can say, Hey, I call it to check you like check me, let me know. This isn’t right. You know, let me know, keep me honest, keep me abreast of what’s going on, so that I can be a good representative, I can be a good voice. How can you think? How important do you think it is to have people of opposite not only race but gender or outside of your community advocate on your behalf? So, you know, like your best friend who is like you said African American, to have someone like you to be able to advocate on her behalf or men that are in places of leadership advocating on the behalf of women? How important that is?
Dr. Tara Ruttley: That is a really, really great question because I’ve been put in situations where I’ve had the opportunity to advocate, and I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to say or do. And I’ll be quite honest, though, in those cases out, pick up my phone and text my friend, you know, is this appropriate? Is this the right thing for me to say or do? And they will tell me? Yes, absolutely. We need allies advocate, advocate. So, I think, you know, as a female, if I hear a male advocating for women, like my chief, and my supervisors at NASA, they’re very vocal about advocating for diversity, women and minorities, and things like that. And when I hear them, I say that’s cool. Thanks. I’ll take what we can get, you know.
And if I get a chance to advocate. Now I know, I count on my friends and mentors to tell me the right way to advocate, I try to educate myself on the right way to advocate for certain groups. And I’m still a work in progress. And but when I hear it, I’m like, Yeah, that’s great. Thank you. And sometimes it takes some bravery, sometimes people feel like they can’t speak up or advocate, if they’re not in the right positions within their organization, they feel like they’re going to get backlash. So, they’re told they will get backlash, that still happens. I’m not naive. And it’s an unfortunate position. But for those of us that we persevere, that’s how we grow right? And we get as we move up in our professional positions. I’m taking it with me to advocate until someone tells me to stop and then I’ll probably figure out why are they telling me to stop? I can advocate in a different way that they don’t know that I am advocating.
Juanita Coley: You said something that I think is his keys you said the right way to advocate, what is the right way? Or what do you think is the right way to advocate? How do we advocate for people that are maybe in a position that can’t advocate for themselves? What is that right way?
Dr. Tara Ruttley: I think the right way is to bring to light the right points, the right reasons, and change the narrative change the message? You know, it’s one thing to say yes diversity matters here at NASA. It’s another to walk the talk. And so, I think the right way to advocate is to get your message in any way you can. Educate yourself on what you’re about to say before you say it. Make sure you’re right. And I’m lucky to have friends who are also mentors in these areas. Not everybody has that. And a lot of people mean well when they want to advocate but I say do your research from credible sources, making sure that you’re advocating for everyone you possibly can. And it doesn’t have to be big outstanding advocates, that’s going to tick someone off or rub them the wrong way, right? There are ways to get it in and a little in your email signature. In your LinkedIn profile and you’re in the flow of things you may say or do at work in a presentation who you put on your team, when you get an option to build a team. There are lots of ways that you can positively advocate or, outright you know, creating speaker panels on important topics as well. If you’re in a community or an organization that could hear that, then, by all means, advocate that way, too.
Juanita Coley: So, I saw you in a picture in an intro video that we did. I saw you with John Lewis, right. So, we know that his saying is to get into good trouble, Right, so you talked about some of the subtle ways, that you can advocate whether it is via email signature, whether it is the LinkedIn, what are some of the ways that you can get into good trouble by implementing diversity and inclusion and advocating and speaking up for other people.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: Oh man, I am not used to getting into any trouble. I’m such a good girl. I think you know, it’s a matter of what comfortable for each person. I think you can take more progressive steps. Speaking out for the organizations that you support, not being afraid to say who you are that will get you into good trouble. In fact, creating something new in your organization and supporting a certainly underrepresented population. You might tick some people off, and it might get you in some trouble at work. I think in the end if it’s a beneficial thing. And it’s impacting somebody’s life then it’s good trouble to get in. I’d say, I’m still figuring this one out. Because I haven’t gotten into too much trouble yet. I just take care of who I am, I’m very much a rule follower. So, I count on my friend AV who was in the space camp video talking on my behalf. She’s a Veterinarian oncologist specialist. She’s like a unicorn African American woman in her field. She’s incredibly you should interview her. She’s incredible.
Juanita Coley: I’m definitely up for it.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: She came to visit me in DC, and she said let’s go visit John Lewis. And I’m like who? And she’s like what, let’s go. So, she’s just schooled me and I’m a grown-up. How did I not know this man? That’s right here in our congress doing these things. So, we honestly got to meet him because it was her suggestion. And I would not have otherwise, and my daughter knows who he is. We’ve followed him now, of course, all the way to today. The tragic loss that we had last year, but because of her I’m more enlightened, my daughter is more enlightened. And we were working on paths to give him the good trouble. I’m still figuring that one out. Honestly, I’m a work in progress.
Juanita Coley: I think, that’s the important piece though, Is progress. I love to say incremental progress like I think it’s okay to be a work in progress, as long as we continue to move forward and understand that there is some work that still needs to be done, how do we get it done? This is why we’re having these conversations. Tell me about, another question I had was around the Diversity Program, or, you know, I know you said around 23% at NASA was around looking at the diversity at NASA, tell me more about the environment and some of the culture and NASA that they kind of fostered in order to kind of help your growth, things that they’ve done to maybe get more women involved in women history month. So, tell me about some of the environments they have to foster or things that they had to change in order to create an environment that would be conducive for your growth.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: So, what some of the really good things that happened at the Johnson Space Center. I’m not sure if they have been at all the NASA centers very 10 centers around the country but there are these employee resource groups that are based on African American employee resource group, we have a Hispanic employee resource group we have women in STEM. We have all these resource groups that employees can join and bond together and discuss the issues and discuss the culture at NASA, help make a change. And so, for example, our African American resources, employee resource group just this past summer, you know, with the George Floyd incident, stepped up and created a series of online workshops, the entire agency tuned in. I can tell you it changed lives, and they have a series of workshops of difficult conversations with African American leadership around the country, at home in Houston, and had some very difficult conversations and things that you don’t hear about a lot because you’re professionals and this isn’t stuff we talked about on an everyday level.
So, I think creating a lot empowering the employees to make these resource groups where they’re connected is one thing, NASA has a unity and diversity program that we’re trying to grow that encourage the messages of unity and making sure the message we’re bringing into the fold and your team as many different voices and representatives that you can, that’s at the agency level. At the NASA Johnson Space Center level when I was there, diversity training was a requirement, they didn’t let you go by, without that, so it was, there was a definite requirement. And what that did was open up conversations in the cubicles, to people, you know, among, among each other on the employees and I think, at least the people that I was surrounded within the space station program were absolutely open-minded open to those kinds of conversations and these are our friends. These are our coworkers like we’re with every day, hours of the day, or more.
So, it was an opportunity to have a conversation we wouldn’t normally have. So, I think as a whole, the agency, it enables and empowers, whatever the employees, offer up to be creative to offer up to create. We also do things that we have an office of equal opportunity and diversity. That keeps metric on, you know, NASA scientists and by gender and race, ethnicity and, you know, including the types of sciences, that we are trying to recruit, we know where the gaps are, and so we do targeted outreach to different universities or different working groups and different STEM groups and organizations to try to reach out to those particular underrepresented communities.
And it’s an interesting thing. I have these conversations with my girlfriend’s a lot. How do we get a lot of kids to love like you said our kids love space and then they grow out of it? Why is it that we don’t really know how to space but stem? Now there are lots of different reasons that it can be talked about forever, but so, NASA takes pride in trying to target underrepresented groups, and, working hard to recruit through internships, and hiring opportunities. We in the federal government have hiring practices that are transparent but difficult. It’s hard to come to work for the government, sometimes they don’t hire a lot of people. So that’s a whole other challenge in itself, but we do have an office that looks out for making sure that we’re hiring a diverse workforce.
Juanita Coley: I think that’s so important, and I was talking earlier about the discover commercials that I love and matches. So there’s a call center rep, and the customer comes in, the customer is maybe it’s the older lady and so the customer service rep that she gets is an older lady that’s matching the energy that she’s giving. The next caller calls in and is a younger guy, he’s really straight to the point and assertive and so, he gets someone with a customer service that’s just like straight to the point, “Sir this is your bill this is the amount”. And so, he matches that energy so whenever I think about or I see that commercial. And they have some funny ones on there too.
But every time I think about that commercial, I think about why it’s so important to have a diverse not only workforce. Because I think it impacts the customer experience almost like what you’re talking about as far as your research, the research that you do impacts what we get here on earth as far as the end result.
And because you’re a woman you’re going to see things from a woman’s standpoint. If we have African American women, if we have men, we’re going to have all these different experiences and all these different vantage points that impact the end results the customer experience, and what they get. So if I’m an African American female and I’m calling in for my healthcare services about a particular thing and because you don’t deal with that particular issue, you can’t relate in the same way as far as the urgency of why I’m calling about this bill or this provider, or whatever the case may be. That’s why diversity, not only from an agent standpoint is important, but also the leadership in these contact centers and all the tech space and all those different things, I think that’s why diversity is so important, and what NASA is doing as far as making sure that they build an environment that’s conducive to foster that growth, is so important. So interested to understand more about how we do that more and more in the call center industry.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: Boy, what an analysis, I’ve always thought of NASA as an agency-level big picture. But I actually never thought until you now mention it about those kinds of resources and benefits to earth by different cultures, or genders I haven’t thought about those applications before and so you put it that way. And now I have something to go, and look at and think about so thank you for that really insightful.
Juanita Coley: Thank you. Thank you, I am super excited about it which is continuing to have these conversations because I think that is not until we start to think about, you know. So customer experience is something that we hear talked about all the time, the customer experience, service, you know, the customer you know company should have good customer service. But I think about that in terms of that’s the end result. So everybody talks about Chick fil A service which is the end result because they have this great leadership, they have is their training and you said at NASA before you can, you couldn’t opt-out of diversity training is something that you have to do. It’s not until we start to have more of these conversations, and actually have people that are more diverse, that we get, you know CX customer experiences just, you know, just kind of a by-product of all the work that you’re putting in.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: In the customer service industry that you’re in your right you’ve got all the different types of representation, you’ve got, what a wide spectrum, you’ve got everybody, everybody, you’ve got to consider. And for us in science that we think we think we want to go to the moon, we want to go to Mars, or we want to bring benefits back to Earth, but of course but the public where we say the public, we bring benefits back to the public. Hadn’t thought about the different ways, and all the wide range of the public that our science serves or doesn’t serve so thank you for that. Fantastic.
Juanita Coley: Okay, I just have a few more questions, and I promise I am going to let you go. Tell me how important was space camp. So, you were talking about earlier, how children, they are all in aww about space and then at some point along the journey they kind of lose interest. How important was space camp being involved in that early, to keep it? Because we know you have been spacy since you were three, right, but how important was it to keeping that fire lit for you to go into space camp and getting involved so early.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: When I went, it’s such an impressionable time too, I was high school and when I went, I finally met my tribe, like no one I knew before knew anything about space, none of my friends cared. They were doing other things or whatever. So, I just knew I wanted to go into space and so when I finally got to space camp, I met my tribe. So, I think at that point it validated what I was thinking I wanted to do. It taught me more and gave more resources about learning what the next steps would be, I needed to go to college, even though be the first in my family to go to college, and what I needed to probably major in and it got me thinking about my future and these are people that I’m still in touch with today too. They were not all there for the space program they’re there for other reasons. I think the importance, if you’re a parent of a student. I think you can try it you need to try to do it, you will not understand what their interest is like your kid is interested in something like my kid is interested in being a pastry chef. I don’t even bake; I know nothing about that. But I am trying to figure it out and finding these opportunities to give her the chance. I guess it could be argued, but it’s a totally different world. So, I try to give her the opportunity so you can see opportunities to immerse in other online courses there are YouTube courses there are real-life hands-on summer camps, just be on the lookout for anything like that even if you don’t quite understand it. There are lots of inexpensive options these days because back then we had no Internet, and we weren’t connected and there weren’t many options but these days there’s so many options to get involved in whatever it is that, that your student is interested in it just support them.
Juanita Coley: Absolutely yeah transparent. I have to myself even do better with just kind of like I was sharing with you earlier I have all girls three girls; their interests are so wide-ranging that I feel like I’m from one end of the spectrum to the next. I’m like, I’m yoyoing all the time.
So, I think it’s so interesting, to, you know I was listening to your story earlier about how your dad was like, you know, that was the best money he ever spent, sending you to space camp. I’m always like my kids are so wide-ranging. I’d be spending all kinds of money.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: No kidding. The other thing is places like space camp offer scholarships. I think people don’t need those students don’t think that they would be accepted like getting a scholarship like why me. Why me, so they don’t even apply or don’t even try. There are so many organizations that want to give money to these students and want to reach students who couldn’t otherwise afford it. All you got to do is ask, send an email and ask it may not be publicized on their website financial aid or assistance or whatever, but just send an email and ask them, don’t count yourself out.
Juanita Coley: Absolutely. So last question and I’m going to let you go. It’s an easy one. It’s actually an easy one, it’s not, it’s not really a deep thought-provoking one like some of the ones we talked about earlier. So, the movie “Hidden Figures” I thought that it was just, I watched it like five times. I loved it. Honestly, I didn’t know who Katherine Johnson was before I saw the movie. So, tell me what were your thoughts about “Hidden Figures” as well especially being at NASA, how close it all is that environment so what we saw in the movie, and then also, how important do you think it is for us to have more movies like that we’re seeing, you know, you said something earlier, visualizing yourself there, so I think the movies help visualize, you know, that this is possible. What was your thought on the movie “Hidden Figures” and then how important is it to have movies like that?
Dr. Tara Ruttley: So, I think it’s an interesting thing because more than a movie impacted me. The friend I was sitting right next to my best friend African American I the cubicle next to me. I was seeing it through her experience. So, I felt like a personal one-on-one. Almost line by line experience and we didn’t have to go to the movie together, but we had, we had lots of conversations about it right there at NASA, and she was literally she is literally a hidden figure she is, there’s not like again the stats on American females in engineering at NASA are ridiculous. So, I don’t even know she could tell you but they’re like 2% It’s really. Yeah, so, seeing it through her experience was more rewarding than watching the movie, and not everybody gets this experienced but for me, because I work at NASA because I was able to meet a friend, my friend who is African American female living it through her experience was more important.
And I saw all of the organizations that she did to leverage that movie to organize more events and NASA opened up more eyes at NASA and external for NASA as well. And she was recognized a lot for that work as well. And so, then my daughter to see a movie and my daughter and I have a conversation. We need more like that. I will tell you a quick story. I was on a plane ride, reading a book after the movie, and this gut sitting next to me. Just couldn’t stop talking to me. As it turned out he was a drummer on the plane. I said who are you a drummer for, he said Charlie Pry. I was like the first African American country singer. He said yeah Charlie’s up there in the front of the plane, and he just was talking to his head off and we got to talking, I gave him my book to give to Charlie Pry. But when I got off the plane because I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, but you got to pass this on to him and read it so, so I just was like you know the universe gives you what you need when you need it.
Juanita Coley: I love that. You know I have to do it. The universe gives you what you need when you need it. I love it. I absolutely love it. Well, tell us where we can find you, find your book find out more about you. All things Tara.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: I don’t have a book. But you can find me just by Googling me you’ll find me about like you know sometimes I get presentations on clubhouse occasionally if you’re in the clubhouse. You can find me on LinkedIn, you can find my website I have a website, tararuttley.com, you’re welcome to send me an email. I love hearing from people and I’m happy to help. In different situations whenever I can. And you can find me on NASA. Just you know I’m a federal employee so punch it in, and I’ll be happy to talk to whoever wants to hear about space.
Juanita Coley: Well, thank you so much so, so, so much Tara for joining me today. It has been.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: You are a mistress of the interview. This podcast is going to be so great I’m going to watch them all. I’m going to learn customer service too in the process.
Juanita Coley: Thank you. Thank you, that is, that is the goal. I want to, our goal is customer service is such a behind the scenes thing, I don’t think we talk about that as far as no whole discipline, and all of the things that go into it so we’re on that mission to normalize women in tech and workforce leadership roles and so I’m super, super excited. Thank you, thank you so much Tara for joining me. Make sure that you guys go and visit the website tararuttley.com and connect with her and ask her different questions. We also have, again, we have a nonprofit it is called Solid Rock Collaborative. We have these shirts here on the Solid Rock Consulting website if you go to solidrockco.net/ccc , you’ll find these shirts where you can get some of those shirts from. And Tara I will be sending you a gift for sure. We’ll connect afterward. Thank you all so much for joining in, I appreciate you. My production team is coming in and telling me, Hey, make sure you do this. Listen, I’m super excited to talk to Tara. I might forget everything except for the questions.
Dr. Tara Ruttley: Thank you so much for your time and you’re are wonderful questions.
Juanita Coley: Thank you so much, Tara. Bye
Dr. Tara Ruttley: Bye