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Lakiesha Hawkins is deputy manager of the Human Landing System program at Marshall Space Flight Center.

A little encouragement can go a long way. Lakiesha Hawkins, deputy manager of the Human Landing System program at Marshall Space Flight Center, found that out firsthand.

Hawkins was attending Florida A&M University in Tallahassee in the mid-1990s when a mentor, who was working with the Space Shuttle Program, urged her to consider studying propulsion and to apply for opportunities at the school.

“I am a NASA engineer today because of that mentor,” Hawkins said. “I remember him saying I could do it, and I believed him.”

Because of that experience, Hawkins has volunteered time to mentor students and young professionals.

“That has been a significant part of my life because I know that having a mentor speaks to an individual’s potential and can change the course of a young person’s career,” she said. “I have experienced many positive turns in my journey through the power of mentoring, so I feel an obligation to pay it forward.”

Question: How do you encourage teamwork, collaboration, and integration, especially in this unprecedented telework environment?

Hawkins: The last year and a half has been unlike any challenge we’ve ever experienced. Encouraging teamwork, collaboration, and integration has had to be more intentional with a dispersed team. I have missed the natural breaks that in-person meetings afford and the informal interactions of seeing one another in the halls. To address this, HLS has been intentional about holding virtual one-on-one check-ins with team members as well as virtual coffee breaks via Microsoft Teams. Because HLS is a multicenter team, the virtual environment has, in some respects, allowed more inclusiveness because scheduled meetings have taken the place of water cooler problem-solving where those not physically present may have missed out in the past.

Question: How are you managing your personal and your team’s work-life balance, especially now, more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic?

Hawkins: Working from home, it’s challenging to turn the workday “off” at the end of the day. I have designated a defined work area so at the end of the day, I can step away from my computer, close the door, and transition to time with my family. Getting outside and setting aside time for social interaction has also helped me to maintain a healthy balance. I find myself frequently reminding members of my team to prioritize a work-life alignment that is best for them.

Question: What key partnerships are your team pursuing to help NASA build and develop a sustainable presence on the Moon? Help push the boundaries of science, technology, and/or human exploration?

Hawkins: For the Artemis mission, establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon will take partnerships across the agency, with industry, academia, and with international stakeholders. The HLS program has embraced the partnership philosophy by bringing together the best of industry and its innovative approaches, with the agency’s deep technical expertise, experience, and commitment to crew safety. We have implemented a collaboration strategy where NASA discipline experts provide in-line support to contractor designs, working side by side with our provider teams to develop the next lunar landers.

Question: How does your team honor and demonstrate NASA’s commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive environment?

Hawkins: The HLS team is committed to a diverse and inclusive environment. To land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface, we have engaged a diversity of disciplines, perspectives, and experience levels across all NASA centers. With such a challenging mission, we celebrate the team with program, center, mission directorate, and agency recognitions. Our program manager, Lisa Watson-Morgan, and her management team have also established a “flat” organization where leaders are accessible and encourage the team to share great ideas, no matter where they may originate from.

Question: Why do you think your team is successful at staying mission-focused?

Hawkins: The HLS team has been successful so far because each of us is committed to the challenging objective of returning Americans the Moon. To achieve this, the HLS program has adopted a risk-based approach to program leadership where we allow highest safety, technical, and programmatic risk areas to drive our efforts and resources. Every process and requirement has bought its way into the program, ensuring our energies are targeted towards achieving our goal. The team communicates frequently to remind each other of the extraordinary yet attainable goal we are striving to achieve.

Editor’s note: Daniel Boyette, an LSINC employee and the Marshall Star editor, supports Marshall’s Office of Strategic Analysis & Communications.

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