Dr. Michaelyn Thomas is the Head of Affordability at Virgin Orbit in Long Beach, California.
It is her job to make rocket science affordable! Virgin Orbit is on a mission to democratize and open space for everyone by providing dedicated, responsive, and affordable launch services for small satellite customers. Since starting her aerospace career in 2007, her unique leadership roles have spanned across finance and program management for government and commercial space programs.
Michaelyn holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a Minor degree in Russian language, a Master of Business Administration degree, and a Doctorate degree in Organizational Leadership. Her dissertation is entitled, Exploring the Advancement of Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Executive Management Positions in the Aerospace Industry: Strategies Identified by Women that Enable Success. Her most recent publication, “Empowering Women to take on STEM Leadership Positions within the Aerospace Industry,” appeared in the November 2018 issue of STEM for Women Magazine.
Nora Toure: Michaelyn, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into your current role?
Michaelyn Thomas: Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that I wanted to be in the space industry either as an astronaut or working on space programs. However, I learned very early on the traditional science and engineering path was not right for me.
Instead of conforming to the paradigm, I let my passion guide me, and that ultimately led me to a successful career working on many space programs in the aerospace industry. My passion paved the way for me to achieve an executive leadership position in just a short 10 years after starting my professional career in space.
Academically, I have a very unusual background for a space professional, although, that is what allowed me to work my dream positions in the aerospace industry.
I have my doctorate in organizational leadership, a master’s degree in business administration, and a bachelor’s of the arts degree in political science public law with a Russian language minor degree. Each degree helped me achieve the positions I desired and served me very well in the business I love most.
I have had the pleasure of devoting my entire professional career in the aerospace industry, primarily development space systems, and the positions I have held consist of contracts and pricing administrator, material cost manager, lead cost/price analyst, lead finance cost estimating and pricing specialist, program management business operations specialist, chief of staff to the vice president of space programs, and now I am the head of affordability at Virgin Orbit.
As the head of affordability, I get to utilize my diverse academic and professional experience to execute the duties of my job. My primary focus is making rocket science affordable through leveraging best practices and new and innovative ways of thinking.
This role requires a unique blend of finance expertise, program/project management, effective communication, “out-of-the-box” thinking, and inclusive leadership. All teams have a stake in affordability, and it is truly a pleasure to cross-functionally lead brilliant teammates across diverse organizations.
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