Findlay grad finds fulfillment working for NASA

by Krystan Krucki

Tracking the biometrics of future astronauts, working in a 20-foot-long icing tunnel in -31 degree Fahrenheit temperatures and teaching robots to learn using rewards sounds like scenes out of a science fiction novel. For Kristen Hauser ’15, this is a normal day at work. A dream job since childhood, she is currently a computer system engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. There, she works on various teams developing mission needs, system architectures and system requirements for aeronautics and space flight as part of NASA’s mission to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.

“With everything that NASA does in advance, a lot of what I do is focused not on today, but bettering tomorrow,” Hauser said. “When developing new technology there are new risks and at NASA, protecting civilians is a primary concern.” She quipped that the long-term vision of her job is advancing technology to the point of the Jetsons (a 1980’s children’s cartoon about a family from the future) and making it there safely. She keeps that concept at the forefront of her mind when working on her current focuses of modeling predictors, security and machine learning. These subjects can be applied in multiple settings and allow work to be done on a variety of projects.

A recent project of Hauser’s being developed for current uses with long-term goals focused on interpreting data signals to biometric information. While this may seem like a task for a biologist, it’s pure math. “We already know what humans need to survive,” she explained. “It’s up to mathematicians to calculate biometric values from raw signals and work with biologists to identify meaning.” This technology can be used by doctors, professional athletes or pilots.

Drone communication using network simulation is another project looking toward the future. Most everyone has had the experience of being in a crowded arena and having poor cellphone connection. The connection is bad because there are too many people trying to use the network and it becomes overloaded. Hauser raises the question; if there are a lot of drones flying around using up bandwidth in the future, how are cellphones and the networks the drones are using going to operate? She is working with communication experts to model these situations to gain a better understanding of the future.

Graduating with a double major in pure mathematics and applied mathematics in computer science, Hauser says that her degrees allow her to fit in on any team. “I’ve been on projects where I’m the only math person surrounded by engineers or biologists,” she said. “You get to facilitate a lot of interaction and move projects in certain directions.” The most important part of being successful in this career is staying up-to-date on current tools and technologies. In addition to pursuing her master’s degree, she also takes on technical work outside of her job to see how technology is being applied in different ways.

For students interested in a career with NASA, Hauser suggests looking into NASA’s pathway program. This program provides opportunities for students and recent grads to experience a co-op and experience different fields with the opportunity to move into a full-time position upon completion. Hauser herself interned with NASA in the summer between her junior and senior year at the University of Findlay. She credits UF with providing a quality environment in which to grow. The curriculum for the Math Program prepared her with content knowledge, but it was the small class sizes that helped her gain confidence in her field. “I’m a pretty quiet person who does better with small groups; if I’m in a lecture of 100 people I’m not going to talk,” she said. “I always felt comfortable approaching the professors with any questions I may have had.”