Originally published by Tyler Gallagher on Thrive Global here.

There is power in diversity. In the space industry, we are often faced with unique challenges to solve. Having diverse approaches and diverse skills and abilities continually proves to enable more rapid solutions for these challenges. Diversity enables a broader range of creative solutions… just what we need when trying to solve new challenges.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Shelley Peterson, Lockheed Martin.

Shelley Peterson has supported Lockheed Martin pursuits, diving into the rapidly evolving augmented reality and wearables market to integrate emerging technologies into solutions for Lockheed Martin Space applications.

Early in her professional career, Shelley founded a business focused on emerging technology solutions, including military aircraft distributed mission training and multi-spectral imaging monoculars.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Sure! I grew up in a small town of about 800 people in west Texas. At that time, our judge was also the barber. It was a great experience… like one big family. My mother was an English teacher and librarian, and my father was the county commissioner. They both encouraged me to pursue my interests, which included math, music, and sports. I had a love for aircraft, and anything related to airplanes. My older brother loved to assemble models, so of course, I had to do that too. The first model I built was an SR-71 Blackbird, and the more I learned about it, the more curious I became in aerospace.

Is there a particular life lesson that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

One of the lessons I have used throughout my career is one that a mentor in college passed along. If we think of a “bullseye” target with rings, and we place “Self” in the center circle, and then “Team”, in next circle out, and fill each expanding circle with “Project”, “Program”, “Company”, “Customer”, etc., it provides a map for decisions and strategic discussions. Quite often if we disagree with colleagues on a topic, it is highly likely that we are both “right”. We are just focused on a different level within this decision map.

For example, a colleague might be focused on a solution that is best for the “Team”, while we are focused on what works best for the “Program”. If we can view through this lens and understand what’s driving the interests, we can often get on the same page with a solution that fits well and accomplishes the objectives. I have used this lesson on almost a weekly basis throughout my 23-year professional career and have been able to navigate challenging situations much more effectively with positive outcomes. I love passing it along to others who may find it useful.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the space industry? We’d love to hear it.

My Uncle Cecil was an Air Force Pilot. He and three of his brothers served during WWII and would tell stories of piloting bomber and tanker aircraft. I was amazed by his stories and studied the history of flight. Of course, studying the timeline for flight led to spacecraft, and by high school I dreamed of being involved in space pursuits.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?

In 2018, my team traveled to Kennedy Space Center to support with augmented reality shop aids for a manufacturing activity. We crawled inside the Orion spacecraft to assist with the effort, which took about six hours to complete. It was just an absolutely amazing feeling to have the opportunity to be inside a spacecraft design that astronauts will soon be in, but from space. That was a career highlight!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh my. It was a busy day for my leadership team on my first day of work at my first job out of college. They handed me a printed list of Unix commands and asked me to experiment with them and figure out what they do. I was making my way through the list of commands, successfully figuring out the result of the commands. Halfway down the list was a variation of an “rm *” command. I typed it. Then some interesting things started scrolling by… I had deleted the entire library of data! It took about a day for the experts to recover the library and the team’s work for that day had been lost. It was quite embarrassing… (and led to nicknames).

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are SO many who have helped to shape my career along the way, it is difficult to triangulate on just one. Early in my career I had the opportunity to work with a fantastic manager who taught me to look at our work efforts on multiple levels and from various perspectives. This has been very useful throughout my career, and I appreciate the patience, the insight, and the willing to carve time out of a very busy schedule to work with a young engineer.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I lead our OptimEyez Team, which builds augmented reality capabilities to help our teams at Lockheed Martin build spacecraft. We are finding that we can reduce the time it takes for some activities by 90% ! There are thousands of fasteners and sensors on a spacecraft. When a technician puts on augmented reality glasses, like the Microsoft Hololens, and views the work instructions in augmented and mixed reality (created using Scope AR’s WorkLink platform), they can complete an 8-shift activity in 6 hours. They have completed an 8-hour activity in 45 minutes. We have repeated this at multiple sites on numerous programs since 2017. It’s exciting to see, and fun to be a part of!

Can you imagine traveling to deep space? What an incredible experience that must be! It will offer new opportunities to explore and learn on so many levels. It is pursuit for true pioneers!

I’m also excited about advances in manufacturing. What happens when we can complete a 10-hour task in one hour? We are using augmented reality to provide a higher quality product in a shorter time at lower cost. (The rumor is that you can only accomplish two out of three of “better/faster/cheaper”. We are breaking the rules and accomplishing all three.)

And to see a woman travel to the moon…. That’s exciting!

Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

There are always areas for improvement, and we all need to do our part in making STEM accessible to all and promoting STEM concepts to all. It takes a village… or at least it works much more effectively when we have that village.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech, or the space industry. Can you explain what you mean?

There are enormous opportunities for women in the space industry! For example, at Lockheed Martin it has been such a pleasure to work for our CEO, Marillyn Hewson, who just retired last month. I think all of the employees at Lockheed Martin Space are empowered to pursue their career goals and to play important roles in our space pursuits.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

There is power in diversity. In the space industry, we are often faced with unique challenges to solve. Having diverse approaches and diverse skills and abilities continually proves to enable more rapid solutions for these challenges. Diversity enables a broader range of creative solutions… just what we need when trying to solve new challenges.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I also serve on the Barbara Bush Foundation’s Technology Advisory Council, and I think that improvements in literacy could have a significant impact broadly. What if we could diagnose barriers to literacy and education (like dyslexia, ADHD, etc) at an earlier age? What if we could use eye tracking from today’s augmented and virtual reality devices to make that testing more accessible and lower cost to administer? What if we had better tools to gauge literacy levels, as well as improvements in literacy? Today’s literacy tests are fairly similar to those we have used for decades. You read a paragraph and answer some questions. What if we could use eye tracking in head mounted displays to more accurately assess literacy and comprehension? And what if we could use that same technology to assess improvements? We could optimize literacy instruction, and could reach more effective solutions on an accelerated timeline.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Peggy Whitson! And it would also be just absolutely amazing to have a chat with Buzz Aldrin! I’m a fan. Buzz rocks!