Meet the IBEX Team: Wendy Mills
In the next three years, Wendy Mills plans "to learn every instrument there is to know." She mastered the clarinet as a child and took voice lessons last year, but recently missed some violin lessons to prepare for NASA's latest review of the IBEX mission.
As a specialist at Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in San Antonio, Texas, Wendy prepares and coordinates materials that the IBEX team must present to NASA and other organizations. It is a position that requires her to learn on the job and do a little bit of everything, which is a good fit for a woman who loves learning enough to attempt to study every instrument!
Since she works on many aspects of the IBEX mission, Wendy finds it difficult to pinpoint exactly what a specialist does. The short answer may be a little bit of everything. "My title is specialist, but I think I'm a generalist," she said. "I was hired to be an editor, but most of my work for IBEX is coordinating presentations for the reviews we do." Right now, Wendy's non–IBEX work includes helping IBEX Principle Investigator Dave McComas finalize a manuscript for the TWINS
mission and helping SwRI scientists prepare materials for a course with the University of Texas at San Antonio called "Fundamentals of Space Physics".
Wendy just wrapped up work on presentations for NASA's Preliminary Design Review of the IBEX mission. This intense, multi–day review required around 20 IBEX team members to explain their progress and future plans for carrying out the mission to NASA experts, who offered detailed critiques. Members of the IBEX team inserted technical information into the presentation format Wendy created, and met with Wendy and IBEX team leaders to discuss ways to improve the presentations. The preparation for the review required team members to work extremely hard for almost a month!
For Wendy, the hard work was worth missing a few violin lessons. "It boggles the mind how much work goes into [mission reviews]. At every level, people are putting in at least 100 percent. I've only been working in [SWRI's space science division] for one year, and the ability to work on a space project for the first time and to get to see how things are put together is really interesting, and I'm really excited about it," she said.
Still, Wendy says that putting those violin lessons and other life events "on hold" for work is the most difficult part of her job, but she also insists that her coworkers have to make even greater sacrifices for the IBEX mission. She loves that her coworkers are "completely dedicated to getting their piece of the mission as good as can be, but can also make you laugh and are great to be around. It is great to be able to sit back and know that these people you're working with are so easy to respect because of their motivation, intelligence and dedication," she said.
Wendy commutes to SwRI from Floresville, a town of 5,000 located 30 miles south of San Antonio. She is the third generation on both sides of her family to call the town home. "It means family to me," she said.
As the youngest of three children growing up in the "peanut capital of Texas", Wendy never imagined that she would work on a space mission. She enjoyed music and playing clarinet in the band, and dreamed of being a singer, dancer or musician. "I should have continued my study of music in college, and If I had been a more mature, disciplined 18–year–old, I would have gone into music," she said.
Not studying music in college is a decision she regrets. "I would definitely tell kids to stick with what they want to do and to not forget it or let it fall by the wayside, no matter what happens. You shouldn't settle. If you want to be a musician, be a musician. Don't be afraid if you think you're not good enough," she said.
Instead of pursuing music, Wendy decided to study parks and recreation at Texas A&M before earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri at Columbia's prestigious School of Journalism. In between college semesters and graduate school, Wendy served as a park ranger at Lake Tahoe, "which was fabulous," she said.
After graduate school, Wendy moved back to Texas to work on a new San Antonio magazine called Vision. When it was clear that Vision wasn't going to survive, Wendy took an editing job at SwRI in the fuels and lubricants division. She worked there eight years before transferring to SwRI's space sciences division last year, after it became clear that the editing and layout skills she developed in journalism school were just what the IBEX team needed to create professional publications and presentations.
Working on space missions may be new to Wendy, but she would like to continue working on missions like IBEX in the future. "I like explaining to people, even with my limited understanding, what IBEX is about." she said.
Wendy will have to find time for future space pursuits after she reaches her musical goals. Right now, she has the violin to conquer. After that, she plans to teach herself to play the piano!