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  1. Blog
  2. Partners in Diversity

Inside Look: How 6 Women at Ursa Major Launched Unexpected Careers in Aerospace

“I never would have guessed I would end up in aerospace, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else!”

Woman working on one of Ursa Major's rocket engines
Photo courtesy of Ursa Major

This article is part of InHerSight's Partners in Diversity series. Discover companies partnering with InHerSight to better support women in the workplace.

Never dreamed of working in aerospace? Neither did most of these women at Ursa Major, a Colorado-based aerospace company that produces rocket engines for some of the biggest players in the next space race. Yet the career changes each made to pivot to this intriguing industry have yielded rewarding work that’s making a meaningful impact on the future of… everything. Discovery. Innovation. Humanity.

We asked each woman to share how she ended up in aerospace to give insight into how you might also land such an enriching career. Here’s how a pilot, a public safety dispatcher, an account manager, and more ended up at Ursa Major.

How 6 women at Ursa Major launched amazing careers in aerospace 

Deepthi Krovvidi

Manufacturing Engineer

“As a manufacturing engineer on the Ripley program, I make it possible to build and scale production of reliable rocket engines.”

Her pivot:

“After working on a consumer-oriented product for about four years, I was looking for my next challenge where I could immerse myself in a complex system. I have always been excited by aerospace, and I wanted to learn how to manufacture and scale an engineering problem with high stakes. Initially, I did not think that I had the skills to contribute meaningfully coming from a background of product design on a home robotics platform, but after having initial conversations with engineers about the kinds of problems that they solve, I felt confident that I could be a part of building something awesome! I quickly realized that the fast-paced, intentional critical-thinking framework from my previous startup was applicable to the manufacturing problems that I get to work on at Ursa!”

How Ursa Major has supported her journey in aerospace:

“Across all the sectors of the company, from engineering to customer relations, Ursa Major team members will just sit down with you and walk you through their expertise. As someone who asks a lot of questions, this not only allowed me to learn deeply about the various aspects of building a rocket engine, but also made me feel welcome in a supportive company culture!”

Ursa Major in three words:

“Bold, humble, collaborative”

Marcy Steinke

VP, Washington Operations

“I am responsible for all interactions with the U.S. government—legislative, policy, budgetary, and other business interactions leading to business and support of government interests. This is a mix of BD and the engagements with both the Executive and Legislative branches, including the White House, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, the State Department, the Commerce Department, the Treasury Department, if applicable, as well as all aspects of Congress."

Her pivot: 

“My father was a WWII fighter pilot who ended up as a wing commander in a U.S. Air Force (USAF) Reserve unit. In college, I was a ROTC cadet. Although I’d wanted to fly since 6th grade, I ended up getting a nursing degree (BS/RN), thinking that would lead me into medical school if I did not go to pilot training. I did not get one of the seven pilots slots in my ROTC class. I passed my RN boards and entered the USAF as a second lieutenant and nurse at a major medical center in the Air Force. It was a tremendous experience, but not where my passion was. I applied for pilot training while on active duty—it was an unlikely path, very competitive. I had worked to get my private pilot's license and did well as a young lieutenant. I was one of the lucky 62 people from the entire Air Force selected to attend pilot training. I served as an Air Force pilot for 20+ years with combat missions in Bosnia, Sarajevo, and Iraq.  

As a career broadening assignment, I was then stationed at The Pentagon in the Legislative Liaison area. That gave me exposure to the legislative process and the interaction between Congress and the Department of Defense. 

From there I was selected to go to the Joint Staff—a selective duty combining all services together in order for officers and enlisted to understand how to work together for mission success. I was the Legislative Director for the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. My follow-on assignment from there was to the White House as Director of the Operations Directorate. It dealt with movement of the president, vice president, and cabinet by air as well as continuity of government. I retired as a colonel from that position and moved into the academic and industry realms, specifically working in the renewable energy and space arenas.”

How Ursa Major has supported her journey in aerospace:

“In my flying years, 2 percent of military pilots were women. Ursa Major’s position still has me working with the Department of Defense as well as many other governmental areas. My experience has provided me the opportunity and confidence to speak truth to power. The President of Arizona State University helped me understand what I can bring to the team: He described me as extremely adaptable at a very high level. It’s my stance that anyone in a decision-making position needs to hear the well-rounded truth as they examine their choices. I see that as my task—within Ursa Major and externally… to the highest levels.”

Ursa Major in three words:

“Intriguing, game-changer, enticing”

Ursa Major

Ursa Major develops high-performing, low-cost engines for launch and hypersonic applications, which for us earthlings means they’re powering the next space race. But beyond how cool that is, we like how their three top metrics—Maternity and Adoptive Leave, Paid Time Off, and Flexible Work Hours—are parent- and life-friendly. Click to explore other reasons why Ursa Major is an out-of-this-world place to work. 

Learn more ›

Courtney Slama

Talent Acquisition Coordinator

“I am a part of the talent acquisition team here at Ursa! Our job is to find qualified and well-aligned candidates to support and grow our teams. I communicate daily with candidates and ensure they are informed at all stages of our interview process, among a wide variety of other tasks related to growing our team!”

Her pivot:

“Most recently, prior to jumping into recruiting, I was a public safety dispatcher working for police and fire departments. After seven years of very intense work coupled with long hours, I was ready to make a change. After talking to a friend who is a recruiter and looking into the career itself, I determined that my unique skill set could be applied to recruiting. I have always been passionate about helping others and found that I can help others to find their dream career and company! When I found Ursa Major in my search for a position within recruiting, I was hooked. From the website, which spoke to its incredible culture, to the glowing reviews from current and previous employees, I couldn’t think of a better company to work for. As I continued my deep dive into all things Ursa Major I was fascinated by the incredible engines that were being designed and produced to make space more accessible. The business model that the CEO Joe Laurienti and the founding members built Ursa on is certainly something that has been missing from the industry, and we are now here to bridge that gap! Every day I learn something new about aerospace, and every day I love it more than the last.” 

How Ursa Major has supported her journey in aerospace:

“Being that I do not have a background in aerospace, my transition into aerospace could have gone very poorly! Instead, it felt like the entire team rallied around me. Especially at the beginning of my time at Ursa, I had (and still have) questions galore! Not one person told me they didn’t have time to explain a concept, an engine component, you name it! Employees at every level of the company, from engineers to managers to C-suite executives, would make time in their busy schedules to have these discussions with me. This support from not only my incredible manager but the team at large is the reason for my success, and our shared success in our incredible growth as a company.”

Ursa Major in three words:

“Supportive, challenging, rewarding”

Gwendolyn James

Staff Devops Engineer

“I’m a newly hired DevOps engineer with our in-house software engineering team. The team is responsible for both customizing off-the-shelf products to better meet Ursa Major’s needs and coming up with and implementing original ideas. My role is to provide expertise about building and designing infrastructure components, such as a queueing service for a data processing pipeline or a kubernetes cluster. I also advocate for modern Cloud-style DevOps tooling and practices, whether that’s on-premise Cloud or from a Cloud provider. When the team’s executing well, we speed up other teams, shortening the cycle for producing a new engine!”

Her pivot:

“I was very fortunate to really start my career at Los Alamos National Labs. I was waiting tables and had a great conversation about Linux and Python with a couple of customers, which turned into a job offer to work with their team at the particle accelerator facility. I was working with physicists and engineers, supporting research into the smallest components of the universe, and I loved every day.

Over the next 18 years, when it came time to leave a position, I let myself take whatever jobs were available, not really guiding my career toward a goal. I thought that was necessary, because I don’t have a degree, I’m self-taught in computers. I did have a lot of fun working in startups in Boulder; I learned lots about DevOps engineering at huge scales working for bigger companies like Oracle and Workday, but it wasn’t an intentionally planned set of moves.

When it came time to leave my last job, it was because I knew I was tired of working on problems that didn’t feel meaningful. I’ve worked for advertising startups. I spent three years at an HR SaaS company. I didn’t think these places were solving anything that I felt passionate about. I knew I wanted a job that had meaning more than I wanted the next job available; I wanted to wake up every day excited for the mission of the company and know that I was helping to move the needle for humanity.

I quit my job, and I wrote down what I want my meaning to be, what excites me about my life. I wrote down that I wanted to work with physicists and engineers again. I let myself get wistful remembering photos from the Mars Pathfinder mission I had on my bedroom wall as a kid, and how much the images from the Hubble Space Telescope expanded my sense of the universe.

I signed up to job lists and just kept an eye on things while I spent some time investing in my skillset, learning Go and getting a Kubernetes Administrator certification. One day, on one of these job lists, the name Ursa Major came up, and I knew that was a start formation so I checked out the website.

I knew two things immediately: first, that I wasn’t sure I was qualified to work at a rocket engine company, and second, that I had to apply for this job anyway. Here was a group of engineers trying to make rocket engines to enable an entirely new frontier for humanity in space! It was a startup, so I knew any idea I implemented would have an immediate impact on teams that needed the tools.”

How Ursa Major has supported her journey in aerospace:

“Ursa Major is the second company to interview me as an out and proud transgender woman. The recruiter folks made sure they understood simple things like my name (which I was in the middle of changing) and pronouns, which is a small courtesy that meant the world to me. I’ve lived the experience of gradually being seen as more female; the same ideas that used to land strongly start going unheard. Not at Ursa Major, though. My team has welcomed my ideas for workflow improvements, the directions I’m offering are being implemented, and the team has made it clear that I’m having an impact. I think the fact this is an engineering company means that concrete ideas are respected and valued.

My communication style changed as I transitioned; I speak a lot more from the heart now, my instincts and passions are much louder inside me and they guide me forwards. The enthusiastic emotion I’m bringing to the table is landing well, and my team is welcoming that energy.”

Ursa Major in three words:

“Encouraging, rewarding, exciting.”

Hayley Burke

Talent Management Specialist

“My role consists of supporting the organization's managers and team members through the lens of Ursa’s culture. I coach and guide team leaders on complex people issues, identifying, investigating, and resolving employee issues, concerns, and complaints. I assist in creation and implementation of policies, procedures, and programs to add to team members' experience. I own the intern and onboarding process from start to finish. I also support leadership by providing data, insight, and opinions on strategic decisions.”

Her pivot: 

“I never thought I would be in the aerospace industry. I previously worked for Target and Starbucks in leadership roles. After being employed in the corporate environment for 10 years, the idea of working for a startup was so exciting for me. I had recently completed my master’s degree in organizational leadership and human resources management and my PHR certification and was looking for a specialized role in human resources.” 

How Ursa Major has supported her journey in aerospace:

“For so long I had looked for a company who lived its values every day and a company whose values aligned with my own. I wanted to be proud to tell people where I worked. I found that with Ursa. Ursa has also allowed me to take the role I’m in and run with it. It has also shown me that perspective matters and can make a huge difference in the success of individuals' development.”

Ursa Major in three words:

“Bold, exhilarating, dynamic”

Nancy Cable

Director, Manufacturing and Industrial Engineering

“Here at Ursa, I am responsible for the manufacturing engineering team, optimizing processes, and growing people. In manufacturing, we focus on scaling the rocket science into a consistent quality product to ship to our customers. The manufacturing engineering team focuses on stability, efficiency, and innovation. I feel my personal impact at Ursa comes from being able to bring my previous (non-aerospace!) manufacturing experience into our environment, helping implement industry-standard lean practices and error-proofing methods. I also contribute by encouraging manufacturing engagement early and often, striving to build strong relationships between manufacturing and other disciples at Ursa.

Her pivot: 

“Unlike many of the people here I’m not a rocket enthusiast, and I didn’t aim to end up in aerospace—it just happened. Rockets are the coolest (!), but my professional passion is for manufacturing. I am so thrilled to be able to bring my enthusiasm for manufacturing to Ursa and scale rocket production.

As a college student in mechanical engineering, I thought I wanted to pursue product design with a focus on aesthetics and ergonomics. When I couldn’t find the job I thought I wanted, I broadened my horizons and started applying everywhere. After turning down several opportunities, I accepted a job as manufacturing engineer, working on assembly and test of diesel fuel pumps and injectors for heavy equipment (think: tractors and backhoes). This aligned with my values of wanting a hands-on job with a good team where I would be constantly learning. I stayed with the industrial segment for years, working on various fuel control products as a manufacturing engineer and then as a manufacturing engineering manager. Although I said early in my career I would never go into leadership, I eventually recognized that I found value in growing people, enabling others to do good work and helping set strategy and vision for manufacturing. I had the opportunity to implement lean manufacturing principles, build production lines for new products, and engage in the digital transformation of assembly and test technology.

In 2019, I was reassigned from industrial to aerospace hydraulics to assist with a factory move. Although the assignment was temporary, I chose to stay with aerospace. I was surprised by the ‘old school’ manual manufacturing methods in our aerospace division and got excited about the opportunity to transform the way our products were assembled and tested. Understanding aerospace rules and regulations took some time (hello, mountains of regulatory paperwork), but the production systems and tools I learned in industrial were directly applicable. Over three years, my team had a significant impact on factory flow, automation, and digitization of production. Having a background outside of aerospace was foundational to driving change.”

How Ursa Major has supported her journey in aerospace:

“I have been so impressed with the level of support and authenticity at Ursa. Everyone shows up each day as exactly who they are. I have always believed that I should strive to be great at my job—not just great at my job ‘for a woman.’ The culture at Ursa supports this; my gender hasn’t felt like a barrier or a differentiator. It’s fun to come to work feeling supported, respected, and empowered to build teams and create change. We’re all here to build the best damn engines together, encouraging diverse perspectives and making everyone feel valued.”

Ursa Major in three words:

“Innovative, authentic, collaborative”

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