Julie Kramer White is the Director of Engineering at NASA Johnson Space Center and a University of Utah Department of Mechanical Engineering alum. She has over 30 years contributing to NASA Human Spaceflight programs, working in structural design, analysis, certification, and vehicle systems engineering. In her current role, Kramer White manages people, solves technical issues, and works on future strategic initiatives for NASA.

Kramer White knew in high school that she wanted a career at NASA. Her first step was a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Purdue University. During that time, she was selected for a cooperative education internship at NASA Johnson Space Center, which led to a full-time position after graduation. She started in the Structural Mechanics Division, and her interest in the mechanics and materials of aging aircraft led her back to the school.

“By discovering the wonderful world of aging aircraft, through the eyes of David Hoeppner, I was able to re-spark my desire to return to engineering school,” said Kramer White. “And through the University of Utah’s Mechanical Engineering department, I was able to mold the specific, unique program I wanted and was passionate about.”

After graduate school, Kramer White started working on failures in other systems, such as propulsion and controls systems. “My structures, loads, and materials background was very helpful in these situations,” she said. “I loved integrating teams across multiple disciplines, solving really complicated problems, under the pressure to having to get back to flying. There’s really nothing like it. It’s chaotic and stressful but rewarding technically and from a leadership perspective.”

Kramer White worked in the space shuttle orbiter systems engineering office until the Columbia accident in 2003. After leading the failure analysis activities during the investigation, she was asked to join the newly formed NASA Engineering and Safety Center, where she set up a team of experts in mechanical analysis representing all 10 centers. That broad agency network, coupled with her strong systems engineering background, led her toward her job as Chief Engineer on Orion, then on to the Directors Office.

These days, besides the day-to-day management of a large organization, the biggest part of Kramer White’s day is taken up with challenges associated with operational spaceflight programs. These challenges are varied, from closing out the final issues of Commercial Crew Program flights for SpaceX and Boeing, or the Artemis unmanned flight test in the fall, sprinkled in with more strategic leadership issues such as NASA’s role in future human space flight initiatives in Low Earth Orbit, or what technology work NASA should be doing now to enable capability for future lunar or Mars exploration campaigns.

“I think that changing gears from people management, to immediate technical needs, to future strategic initiatives, back to managing people, in back-to-back meetings, is one of the biggest challenges of the job. Most days are 10+ hours and not a lot of time for lunch!” said Kramer White.

Despite the long days, Kramer White’s enthusiasm for her work is clear. She shared this advice for those currently studying engineering. “Find something you are passionate about because you are going to spend the rest of your life doing it! And be open minded. You never know where your experiences will lead you.”