Last year, I attended Kent Julian’s Speak it Forward Boot Camp in order to help launch my speaking business. At the boot camp, Kent referenced one of his Mastermind members who was really rockin’ it with her speaking business and mentioned she had a great brand created on the fact that she was a rocket scientist. I immediately thought – I want to meet this lady! That lady is Maureen Zappala of High Altitude Strategies and is my first interviewee for my Love Your Career, Love Your Life monthly interview series!
When I interviewed Maureen, it turned out that she really was a rocket scientist! She graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and was hired by NASA’s Lewis Research Center doing jet propulsion research. She eventually became the Facility Manager of their Jet Engine Research and Test Facility. She left in 1997 to pursue other interests including direct sales, fitness instruction and motherhood. She has now positioned herself as a professional speaker who challenges organizations to “push the envelope” of their own expectations, so they can propel their teams to peak performance. You can find more about Maureen and the awesome ways she is serving organizations and people at her website www.maureenz.com.
Q: Why did you choose engineering?
My dad was an engineer. He was a designer for the World Trade Center in New York City and would always bring blueprints home for me to look at. One afternoon I can vividly remember us in the driveway tinkering with our family station wagon engine. My dad looked at me and said “Maureen, you should be an engineer”. I thought he meant drive a train, until he explained what it meant to be an engineer.
I grew up in New York City and was there for the groundbreaking of the World Trade Center. Originally I wanted to be a civil engineer because bridges fascinated me, but changed to mechanical engineering after a summer internship at Wright Patterson Air Force Base where I fell in love with jet engines.
After graduating, I accepted a job at the Propulsion Systems Laboratory at NASA in Cleveland, OH and later became the Facility Manager of their Jet Engine Research and Test Facility. I came into work every day and loved it! Work was exciting, cutting edge and forward thinking.
Q: Why did you decide to leave a job you loved?
I was at NASA for 14 years and near the end was in a management position with a lot of politics. It felt like the agency was losing focus and I stopped having fun at work. In 1997 cash buyouts were offered and I decided to leave.
After that I did lots of things, sold Mary Kay, did consulting at Cleveland state to help Mechanical Engineering students, and worked with a friend’s business to go into schools to help students prepare for college. I became a member of toastmasters and it had a huge impact on my love of speaking. It was through them that my presentation skills went from being really bad to not so bad. In fact in 2009, I was in the top 10 out of 30,000 contestants from across the world in the finals of thw World Champion of Public Speaking Contest. Now THAT was cool!
Q: What does your career look like now?
I have my own business called High Altitude Strategies where I train people on better speaking skills and train organizations on leadership skills.
Q: What is your advice for young women in engineering and technology?
We tend so often to think so far down into the future, we forget what we are going through right now. Relax and embrace the beauty of the passing of time because it is important. Don’t hurry the process. Take the next right step now and focus on what you are learning now.
In your career, embrace your femaleness without being pushy or aggressive or arrogant. There is something beautiful about strong femininity. When you are a female like that you bring out strength in men.
And a final parting quote (which I absolutely love!!):
“There is one thing to love what you do and another to love people through what you do.” –Maureen Z