Mary Bruno Engola ’02
CREATING HER OWN SPACE
Mary Bruno Engola ’02 would like nothing better than to rekindle the kind of excitement and national pride about space exploration that swept America in 1969 when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on another celestial body.
Nothing quite like that aura of excitement exists today, and that’s regrettable, Engola says. Through her position as manager of customer and industry relations for Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. and her leadership role with the Coalition for Space Exploration, she has established a national presence as an advocate for space exploration.
“The space race with the Russians in the 1950s and the moon landing in the 1960s excited the public, but we don’t have that today,” Engola says. “So we have to educate the public on why our tax dollars should go to fund NASA initiatives. That’s one of my missions, to bring space exploration back to the forefront.”
Mary Bruno Engola ’02 is shown with a full-scale mirror segment for the James Webb Space Telescope, a follow-on to the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s being built for NASA by Ball Aerospace & Technologies, where Engola is manager of customer and industry relations.
The space industry wasn’t the career Engola had in mind while completing her political science major and communication minor at Transylvania—her original idea was to be a high school teacher. Two summers of her college years spent as an intern on Capitol Hill convinced her that a career involving the political process appealed to her.
That opportunity came less than a year after her graduation from Transy when she took an industry/government relations position with Ball Aerospace while living in the Washington, D.C., area and completing her master’s in public policy at George Mason University. Ball is a leader in space programs and products, creating and working with satellites and spacecraft, space-based instruments and sensors, and a host of other technologies that support space and earth science, exploration, national security, and intelligence programs.
Engola’s work for Ball brought her increasing exposure in the space industry and led to her election last year as chair of the public affairs team for the Coalition for Space Exploration. The coalition is a national collaboration of space industry businesses and advocacy groups that works to inform the public about the benefits of space exploration. Ball fully supports Engola’s work in this area, allowing her company time to fulfill her coalition obligations.
The coalition was formed in 2004 when President Bush announced a new focus for NASA that would have the space agency complete the International Space Station, retire the Space Shuttle, and develop a new spacecraft to conduct manned missions to the moon and beyond. That reinvigoration of NASA has given greater impetus to Engola’s advocacy efforts.
“It’s very exciting that we are going to return to the moon and then venture farther into space,” Engola says. “We’ve been stuck in low earth orbit since the last Apollo mission in 1972. The benefits we will receive from developing these new technologies and going to new places will be immense.”
Engola credits her Transylvania education with setting her on the path to positions of increasing leadership.
“Transy challenged me, which has helped me grow and develop skills on the job,” she says. “The most challenging course I took was Dr. (Don) Dugi’s Political Theory class. That class made me a better person. Now, I work with the representatives from companies and organizations all over the country that belong to the coalition. I’m the youngest of them all, yet I was elected to a leadership position.”
The message Engola delivers about the benefits of space exploration centers on the need for the United States to stay in the forefront of technological advancement, the inspiration the space program gives to young students to study and work in the sciences, and the many spinoff benefits to society that come from research into space technologies. Examples of the latter include the cardiac pacemaker, car navigation systems, and Velcro.
A sample of Engola’s work was her role in helping the coalition assist the American Medical Association pass a resolution on the benefits of space exploration to the medical community. In turn, the coalition uses that resolution when lobbying Congress.
Although Engola’s employer has facilities in Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico, and the nation’s capital, she lives in none of those places. She and her husband reside in Santa Clara, Calif., with their infant son, and Engola works from a home office with a combination of telecommuting, teleconferencing, e-mails, the telephone, and travel back and forth between Santa Clara and Ball’s Broomfield/Westminister, Co., office to accomplish her work.
That very accommodating work situation is a testament to how much Ball values Engola’s abilities.
“I had moved from the Washington office to the Colorado office, and then moved to California when my husband, Paul, who is an aerospace engineer, received a job offer,” Engola says. “I fully expected to have to find another job, and was so pleased that Ball was willing to work with me.”
In a coincidence almost too good to be true, Engola gave birth to her son, Tyler, on July 20, 2008, the 39th anniversary of Armstrong’s “one giant leap for mankind.” Many years earlier, when Engola was a fifth grader in her hometown of Dumfries, Va., she wrote an essay about why she wanted to attend space camp and won the grand prize—a free trip to camp.
“I’ve always been interested in space,” she says. “There’s a lot of interesting science going on because of the space program, and it’s something I’d like to stick with.”
—William A. Bowden