Women's History Month: UHCL alum says MBA gave her leadership skills to soar at NASA
Kristi Duplichen’s science background and interest in physics started her career at NASA. But while she was there, she realized that scientists and engineers were only part of the reason why astronauts could successfully complete their missions in space.
“When I was an undergraduate at Texas State, I started as a marketing major because I thought it was a good fit for me,” she said. “My parents owned a business and I thought it was a natural fit. But I changed my major to physics and after a while at NASA, I found there was more to how it all worked than just engineering and science. I wanted to learn the business aspect, gain team leadership skills, and learn about finance.”
She decided to enroll at University of Houston-Clear Lake in the Master of Business Administration program, hoping to take the foundational experience she’d had in her family’s business a step further.
“My MBA program at UHCL gave me the growth I was looking for, and it was really convenient for me to continue working and go to school part time,” she said. “I had actually tried a master’s in engineering, but by that time, I didn’t want to pursue that anymore because I still liked business and I knew that even if I changed jobs at NASA, a business degree would help me. My classes were great.”
She received her MBA in 2004 while with United Space Alliance. She left USA and flight control to join NASA in 2006.
“Now my job title is Deputy Manager of the ISS Transportation Integration Office,” she said. “I apply what I learned in my MBA in my current job all the time, especially as we form partnerships with commercial providers like SpaceX, Boeing and other companies to find ways to fulfill our contracts while making sure everyone is successful. We all want to get our crew and cargo safely to ISS and back.”
As a kid, she said she’d wanted to be an astronaut. “But in the meantime, I learned that it’s not just about being an astronaut. It’s about helping them get there, and to do that, we need everyone,” she said. “We need accountants, finance experts, attorneys, medical teams, and marketing. It takes them all to make it work and it opened my eyes that it’s a whole team, not just the mission’s crew. There’s a whole support system and I enjoy being part of that.”
She said her MBA coursework helped her acquire a more holistic view of how NASA was run, apart from the science aspects.
“I got the leadership tools and as I grew in my other roles it made me realize the engineering part wasn’t all there was to make the missions successful,” she said. “There’s a business aspect as well. The MBA helped me expand my toolbox and I was able to move up into leadership. Leading a team is what called to me and having a business degree helped me so much, even in this science environment.”
“This confirmed to me that I do like leadership, this is what I want to do, and I like working on a team,” she said. “I’ve continued taking more leadership classes since I got my MBA and it confirms to me this is an area I want to keep pursuing.”
For anyone considering returning to college for an MBA, Duplichen said she tells her own children that the work is difficult and going to school at night is a challenge. “But if you study something you are interested in, the hard work doesn’t seem as hard,” she said. “When opportunities come available, you’re ready. I studied something that I found interesting and then had the skills to take on new challenges.”
For more information about UHCL's Master of Business Administration program, go online.