“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 
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BABE #151: THAIS LAGE, Mechanical Engineer @ Jacobs Technology, Kennedy Space Center

BABE #151: THAIS LAGE, Mechanical Engineer @ Jacobs Technology, Kennedy Space Center

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As a mechanical engineer for Jacobs Technology at the Kennedy Space Center, today’s babe is (literally) reaching for the stars, and encouraging us to do the same. In her challenging and demanding role, she works on various procedures with the end goal of once again launching humans from American soil. A Brazil native turned Florida resident, Thais is on a quest to discover our place in the universe. We don’t know what we’re more impressed by: her work on the Test and Operations Support Contract, her trilingual capabilities, or the fact that she made it through her engineering undergrad without an ounce of coffee. Thanks for chatting with us, Thais!

The Basics:

Hometown: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Current city: Titusville, Florida
Alma mater: University of Central Florida
Degree: Aerospace Engineering
Very first job: Math Tutor for my neighbors
Hustle: Mechanical Engineer, Jacobs Technology at Kennedy Space Center

The Interests:

Babe you admire and why?
My mom. When she was 18 years old, she was hired as a computer science intern at Citibank in Brazil. By the age of 29, they moved her and her family to South Florida to continue her career. Today, she is a senior vice president and hustles every day to be the best there is.

Favorite app, website or blog?
Google Trips! Whenever I get restless I plan vacations I’ll take one day.

Favorite fictional female character?
Rey, from Star Wars.

Go-to coffee order?
Hot chocolate. I don’t like coffee. Shockingly, I made it through engineering undergrad without an ounce of it.

Go-to adult beverage?
Caipirinha or red wine.

What would you eat for your very last meal?

What is something you want to learn or master?
The Italian language.

Go-to news source?
The Skimm.

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If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Sally Ride. She was the first woman in space. Talk about shattering the glass stratosphere.

What’s something not many people know about you?
I love machining, and hope to one day have a machine shop in my garage to make random things. I also love motorcycles. My fiancé and I both own Ducatis and we enjoy riding them on weekends.

Three words to describe yourself?  
Ambitious, goofy, curious.

The Hustle:

Tell us about your hustle.
I am a mechanical engineer on the Arms and Umbilicals team for Jacobs, on the Test and Operations Support Contract for NASA at Kennedy Space Center for the Space Launch System rocket. This is the rocket that will once again launch humans from American soil.

What does your typical workday look like?
I spend a lot of time writing work procedures for testing operations, launch operations and maintenance procedures for the arms and umbilicals for the rocket. On any given day, I may be testing various procedures, performing maintenance on panels or, one day soon, sitting at a console getting ready to launch our rocket into space.

Have you always had an affinity for all things STEM?
I was always excellent at math and interested in science. When I was 14, I started tutoring the neighborhood kids in math and I continue to tutor math to this day. I think this came from moving to a country where neither of my parents (nor I) spoke the language. The biggest common factor between the United States and Brazil was math.

What inspired you to pursue aerospace engineering, specifically?
My curiosity for what’s out there beyond our planet is what inspired me to pursue aerospace engineering. Arthur C. Clarke once said: “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in this universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” I want to know the answer, but not because I’m terrified, because I’m curious.

How have your past internships, education, and work experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
Throughout undergrad, I interned as a machinist in a machine shop, worked as a project management intern for Citibank Latin America, and as a machinist in a microgravity research lab. The machining experience was key to develop my engineering mind. The project management internship gave me real world experience in how large projects work, start to finish.

Who are some of the mentors who have influenced your personal/professional life?
Mr. Kyle Jeter was my astronomy teacher in high school. His captivating class and passion for all things astronomy inspired me to stay curious and pursue a degree and career in aerospace engineering.

How much collaboration goes into each new project at Jacobs?
I work in a team of 10 engineers. We are each responsible for a different subsystem, and it’s our jobs to test, maintain and operate our subsystems. We all work together to ensure our subsystems operate accordingly by themselves and with each other, to ensure a successful launch.

Has being trilingual been a professional asset?
I was born in Brazil and moved to South Florida when I was 2. My grandma lived with us growing up and she only spoke Portuguese, so I never lost my first language. I learned English and a little bit of Spanish in school. When I was in my third year of undergrad, I moved back to South Florida for a project management internship with Citibank Latin America. I thought I would be working mostly with Brazil, but ended up working heavily with Guatemala, Argentina, Colombia and many other countries in South America. After six months of this full-time internship, I became fluent in Spanish. This has been very helpful in my communication skills, both personally and professionally. I learned very quickly that people communicate differently, and developed skills to relay my message to different types of people. Being trilingual has also fueled my passion for traveling. I feel very comfortable traveling to new countries because chances are, someone there will speak one of the three languages I speak. If they don’t, I’ve learned to be scrappy enough to communicate my message.

What is your biggest career milestone?
My biggest career milestone has been writing the launch book procedure for my subsystem. It felt monumental to write a procedure that will allow me to say the Space Launch System is “go for launch.”

How has being a woman has affected your professional experience?
Sadly, being a woman in my profession has not been the easiest. While I have no complaints about my team (in fact, I have only wonderful things to say about them), I can’t say the same for others I have had to work with. Amongst some slightly sexist comments here and there (that are mostly easy to deal with), I think the hardest part so far has been handshakes. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a man will shake my hand like I’m the most delicate creature to walk the Earth. (When in reality, I ride motorcycles and worked in machine shops and I’m the furthest thing from delicate.) And in fact, that’s not even the point. Even if I were a delicate person, I would still want my hand to be shaken like my peers. Not like a man, not like a woman, but like an engineer.

What is the gender ratio like in your industry?
I’m not sure about the entire industry, but in my group it is 1:24. I am the only woman in my entire group. Luckily, my group is really great, and I frequently forget I’m the only woman there.

What do you think is necessary to encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM?
I think we need to start young. I think we should go to elementary schools and tell young girls that if they like science, they should do more science.

What are some of the everyday struggles with your job that we might not see?
This may be a silly one, but hard hat hair drives me crazy. After I put my hard hat on, it’s impossible to get my hair back to a point where it looks presentable. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m waiting for the day that I have to give a presentation after wearing a hard hat.

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How do you maintain balance between working and pursuing your master’s degree?
I maintain balance by sticking to a schedule. I try to focus on homework and studying on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Having these dedicated hours focused on my schoolwork has made it easier to perform well.

Do you have any time management advice for other babes going back to school as well as working?
Google Calendar! It saves my life on the daily. I color code my classes, homework assignments, work schedule, when bills are due and everything in between.

What’s your biggest strength in your role?
My ability to problem-solve. I’m rarely the smartest person in the room, but I am usually the scrappiest, and I take a lot of pride in being scrappy and figuring things out.  

Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
My colleague, neighbor, and very close friend, Kelly Lai. She is a design engineer at Boeing for the same rocket I’m working on. We had most of our undergrad classes together, and I know for a fact I would not be where I am today without her friendship. Her perseverance in graduating and finding a job—and now succeeding in her job—has been a huge inspiration.

What’s your ultimate dream job?
Astronaut. My dream is to see the Earth rise (similar to a sunrise, but the Earth). If that doesn’t work out, launch director. I want to be the one who says, “We are go for launch.”

What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
I would tell other babes to go for it. A few years ago, my mom sent me a Forbes article that women are more timid when applying for jobs and promotions than men are. This has stuck with me all these years. Statistically, women wait until they are qualified for a job before applying to it, whereas men just go for it. So, apply to that job, ask for that promotion, go get that raise. Because the worst thing that’ll happen is you’ll get told “no”—but the absolute best thing that will happen is you’ll create your own opportunities.

What motivates and inspires you?
My parents! If my parents can move away from their families to a foreign country in the early 90s where they don’t know the language, without Google Translate or digital maps, I can do anything. They have always been my biggest supporters, encouraging me to pursue whatever it is that gets me excited to go to work.

What are some notable experiences you’ve had on the job?
I’ve had the opportunity to stand on the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (it’s 526 feet tall) and look out over all of Kennedy Space Center. It was beyond beautiful.

Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Do not harm, but take no shit. (Can I say that?) [Editor’s note: absolutely.] Ask questions. Say yes to opportunities, no matter how foreign or scary. And forget that you’re a female engineer. The more I see myself as an engineer like the rest of my peers (and not a female engineer), the more I realized my peers saw me that way as well. That makes all the difference.

Connect with Thais!

Instagram // Email

This interview has been condensed and edited.
All photos property of Thais Lage unless otherwise specified.

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