How One Space Engineer’s Boundary-Breaking Mindset Skyrocketed Her Career

2020 is on track to be a history-making year for women. Not only does it mark the century milestone of women in the U.S. winning the right to vote, but women are breaking glass ceilings in leadership positions like never before. Case in point: A record-breaking six women threw their hats into the ring for the 2020 presidential election!

But even with this progress, it can still be intimidating for women to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated industries. A prime example is the United States Air Force: Statistics from 2018 show that women accounted for just 24 percent of officers, despite the benefits, diverse career paths, and limitless opportunities the U.S. Air Force offers to women.

One woman single-handedly blazing a trail for future Air Force leaders is Space Acquisitions Engineer Major Natasha Isabel Peeples (maiden name: Rosario). Peeples has spent the past 11 years leading and managing the life cycles of satellites that are critical for our country’s national security, and she may be transitioning to the newly formed U.S. Space Force in June.

Bustle partnered with the U.S. Air Force to learn more about Major Peeples’ experience breaking boundaries in one of the most challenging — and rewarding — fields out there. Here’s what stuck out from the inspiring conversation.

1. Education Doesn’t Have To End After A Degree

Education is the foundation upon which Major Peeples built her entire career. As the first person in her family to complete college, school wasn’t something she was willing to sacrifice. So when she was looking for a way to continue her education, create opportunities for the future, and give back to her country during her senior year of high school, the Air Force’s commitment to continuing education was a major selling point.

“I really loved the Air Force’s emphasis on getting — and remaining — educated,” Peeples says. “An education is something that no one can take away from you.” These days, Peeples is hard at work in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas at the professional education required for military officers at her rank.

2. When Your Job Is Bigger Than Yourself, It’s Easy To See The Impact

Stereotypes of jobs in STEM often portray experts working alone, with no direct connection to the fruits of their labor, but Peeples’ experience has been anything but siloed.

“To me, engineering is the science of making a difference in the way we live — and that impacts my community in a very tangible way,” she tells Bustle. “It’s the science of innovation for the benefit of the masses. I love the challenge, I love the complexity, and I love seeing the results.”

3. Growth Happens When You Ditch Your Comfort Zone

When she was first hired as an Air Force engineer, it came as a total shock to Peeples that her role would be in Space Acquisitions. But 11 years later, she acknowledges that her career trajectory would never have been possible if she hadn’t taken this initial leap of faith.

“I had no idea that the Air Force did anything with space!" Peeples says, laughing. "I felt really unprepared [at first]. Luckily, I was given enough leeway to grow into that responsibility. That first job really set the tone for the rest of my career, which taught me to be willing and open to learn, and to try new things.”

4. You Have To Believe In Yourself For Others To Believe In You

In those early days as an engineer, Major Peeples didn’t feel equipped with the experience required to lead, especially compared to her mostly male counterparts. Learning to overcome that nagging insecurity was crucial to help her exude power and command respect from others.

“As women, we want to have confidence in what we’re saying and doing, and have that feeling of credibility before we start something,” Major Peeples says. “I had to learn to move past and work through that. Even when I didn’t have experience, I still brought something to the table."

5. Your Uniqueness Gives You Value

When you’re a minority in your industry, it can be tempting to try to assimilate and blend in with those around you. For Major Peeples, who is a minority in both gender and ethnicity in the U.S. Air Force, learning to view her differences as assets as opposed to detriments was a fundamental step in growing into the leader she is today.

"My advice to women is just ‘be you.’ You don’t have to tone yourself down, you don’t have to change who you are, you don’t have to be like others in order to be successful," she explains. "When you own who you are, you benefit everyone around you."

6. History Is There For The Making

After 11 years as a Space Acquisitions Engineer in the Air Force Space Command, Peeples may soon move on to a role with the newest arm of the military — the U.S. Space Force. The significance of this potential transition is not lost on her.  

“I can’t understate the historic moment that’s happening," Peeples remarks. “As a woman working in this industry, there’s so much left to be paved and I’m extremely excited to be one of the first to chart that path. All these experiences have led me to this moment in history, and that’s just thrilling.”

This post is sponsored by the U.S. Air Force.

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