Saint Leo Alumna Now Working At NASA, Encourages Students To Be ‘Problem-solvers And Collaborators’
Rose Mustain ’95 made a career transition from HR to IT and now supports deep space exploration at Johnson Space Center.
While she had her heart set on a career in finance and a job on Wall Street, Saint Leo University alumna Rose Mustain now finds herself working for NASA and supporting deep space exploration.
Mustain, an information technology and cybersecurity leader, was the guest speaker for Saint Leo University’s Mission-Driven Leaders: Conversations on Purpose, presented on April 18. The speaker series is sponsored by the San Antonio Citizens Federal Credit Union.
Hosted by Dr. Mark Gesner, vice president of Community Engagement and Communications, the Mission-Driven Leaders series features speakers who are aligning their actions with their values to positively influence and transform their organizations and communities. The April 18 event also was presented by Saint Leo’s Honors Program.
Mustain ’95 plays a key role in NASA's Gateway Program, which will be an outpost orbiting the moon in support of long-term human presence on the lunar surface and as a staging point for deep space exploration.
She serves as the information management and solutions lead within the Gateway Program Planning and Control Office to protect and structure data, including Information Technology (IT) systems and solutions, cybersecurity, configuration management, data management, meeting services, and privacy implementation.
Gesner asked her about her not-so-straight career trajectory. “When I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted my bachelor’s and my master’s [degrees],” she said, but she didn’t have a clear plan. Her NASA career began in the Training and Education Branch, Office of Human Resources, at NASA Langley Research Center as a secretarial cooperative education student with Thomas Nelson Community College in Virginia.
After earning her associate degree, co-workers and friends nudged her toward that bachelor’s degree and encouraged her to enroll at Saint Leo University’s education center at Langley Air Force Base. She earned a bachelor's in human resource management and shortly after started in an employee development specialist position.
How did she move from HR to IT (information technology)? “NASA’s HR Department needed a website, and I thought I could figure it out,” Mustain said. Always one to take on a challenge or learn something new, Mustain find out how to program and build a website in HTML. Her new skills provided opportunities to work on process improvement and automation projects.
“I always wanted to work on the mission side [of NASA],” she said. And when a position opened at Johnson Space Center in Houston, her husband and two sons encouraged to apply. Her late mother, a confirmed “NASA nut,” also supported her.
“A lot of people nudged me along the way,” she said of her NASA career. “They saw things in me that I didn’t. They saw my potential to lead.”
As for her own mission, “I always had a drive for excellence,” Mustain told Gesner and those attending the speaker series event. She also wants to create processes and work that is long-standing. “I want to create something that can be implemented after I leave,” she said.
She also mentors young people and noted that NASA hires a lot of younger people. “I find that vitally important,” Mustain added.
Gesner noted that Mustain is echoing Saint Leo’s core values of excellence and responsible stewardship in her actions in her life and work.
What excites and motivates Mustain today is cybersecurity, and “the opportunity to create and incorporate cybersecurity into space vehicles,” she said.
As for AI, (artificial intelligence), Mustain also is excited about the possibilities. “I’m a ‘process wienie,’” she said, laughing. “There are a lot of things we do that can be done by AI. Artemis won’t be fully crewed at all times. What do we do when a crew isn’t there? AI can help.”
While many people think of AI as scary, Mustain advised to keep an open mind. She pointed to the use of Amazon’s Alexa to aid in home chores such as turning on a light as ways in which AI already helps people.
Asked what she looks for in job applicants, Mustain said “problem solvers and collaborators.” She offered more advice to students. “Don’t let anybody tell you ‘no,’ including yourself,” she said. “If you don’t think you’re qualified, apply for that job anyway. You get practice working on your resume and more. You’re learning.”
While her path to working in IT wasn’t straight, Mustain said, “God had a plan for me that I didn’t know about.”