Starr Ginn decided she wanted to work for NASA after interning in their Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program (SHARP) following her junior year in high school. She is currently the Deputy Branch Chief of the engineering directorate’s aerostructures branch at the Dryden Flight Research Center. An expert in aircraft ground vibration testing and flight flutter testing, she recently designed and developed a unique aircraft jacking system that allows a test specimen to “float” during ground vibration testing.
NASA Tech Briefs: Your first experience with NASA Dryden came as an intern in the Summer High School Apprenticeship Research program following your junior year in high school. What prompted you to apply for that program?
Starr Ginn: Well, I was sitting in my chemistry class and we had some engineers come by and tell us about this high school program, and as soon as they said they worked for NASA, of course, it kind of stretches your imagination as to the possibilities. So obviously, that sparked an interest. Secondly, I’d have to say just my competitive nature; I wanted to get my resume in there and beat out the rest of my friends to see who could get this job. It was just the right timing, and I had the right information on my resume, and they gave me an opportunity.
NTB: What impact would you say the SHARP program had on your decision to eventually pursue a career in engineering?
Ginn: It was actually the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. I was one of those students that came from a family with no college graduates. I knew I was good at math and science, but I had no idea exactly how you applied that, other than being a teacher. So, having that experience, I came out to Dryden and it was love at first sight. I was just overwhelmed with the possibilities of what I could do. I knew right then and there, right after that summer, that I was going to become a mechanical engineer and I was going to work at Dryden.
NTB: Were any of the guys in your class interested in this program? And did you take any ribbing from them, you know, being a woman and going into engineering, and wanting to work for NASA?
Ginn: I think the boys knew better by then that I was pretty competitive and they were always up for a competition with me in that respect. I’d say the class I was in wasn’t even 50/50 girls to boys. But no, I guess just them knowing my personality, they really didn’t give me a hard time about it at all.
NTB: You are currently the Deputy Branch Chief of the engineering directorate’s aerostructures branch at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. What does the aerostructures branch do, and what types of projects do you typically get involved with there?
Ginn: I’m pretty sure we are the biggest engineering branch in the directorate, and we do a plethora of things starting with dynamic thermal and structural analysis. That includes finite element modeling, aero loads analysis, flutter analysis, aero servoelastic analysis, aero heating. We also have a laboratory attached to us, so we do dynamic thermal and structural ground tests. Some of those tests are ground vibration tests, structural mode interaction testing, and we do structural loads calibrations and equation derivations, proof load tests, and combination thermal/structural testing.
Another feather in our cap is that we do advanced structural instrumentation, which includes strain gauges, temperature and deflection gauges, and the biggest thing right now that’s becoming world-renowned is our fiber optic strain and temperature sensors. And, of course, all of that results in doing flight test support, which is what we’re doing at this particular NASA branch.