By Mason Poepperling / Staff writer

The Hutchinson Community College Dillon Lecture Series has a long and proud history of speakers since it first started in 1982. For the first speaker of 2023, Hutchinson was graced with the presence of Ginger Kerrick, who worked with NASA in numerous leadership positions between 1991 and 2021, including flight operations assistant director for the International Space Station (ISS), flight integration division chief and deputy director of the exploration integration and science directorate. Her career has included many NASA firsts, including the first female Hispanic flight director in 2005 and the first non-astronaut Capsule Communicator.

Kerrick’s road to NASA was a long and arduous journey. For starters, she almost ended up going down a completely different road. Her first dream was to become a professional basketball player. She was given both a Basketball and an Astronomy book at 5-years old, which is when she decided being an astronaut would be her back up plan.

Ginger Kerrick speaks at a press conference prior to the Dillon Lecture Series on Tuesday at the Sports Arena. Photo by Josie Schrag / Collegian

“I always loved to play ball. My dad bought me a basketball when I was 5,” Kerrick said. “I wanted to go play in a league but there was no league for little girls basketball, so we went to the YMCA. There was a little boys league so my dad talked my way onto the team. They always did everything to get me into that.

“In seventh grade I finally made it on the girls basketball team and that was great. I played all through high school, and when I graduated I was female athlete of the year for the city of El Paso. I had a lot of athletic and academic scholarships to choose from but I chose to stay at home for a couple years to be close to my mom. I tried out for the University of Texas El Paso team and made it as a walk on and had an academic scholarship there. I went through all preseason training, I was ready, and then two days before our first game, I went in for a layup and this girl undercuts me and I tumble and I try to get up and I can’t. I looked at my leg and my kneecap was on the side. The trainer came to me and passed out, so I took my kneecap and moved it back and I passed out. After my leg was fixed, I decided to hang up my high tops and focus on my backup dream of becoming an astronaut.”

With her athletic career tragically cut short, Kerrick’s dream of becoming an astronaut became her main focus. But even with a new life goal in view, the road to that goal would be far less than smooth.

“It was like this,” Kerrick said, making a rollercoaster-esque movement with her left arm. “There was this book I read called ‘Astronomy and Astronauts’ that I read when I was 5 and I told my mom I wanted to work at NASA one day. Going through school, I had all kinds of different struggles. When I got to college, I learned that it’s easier to get into NASA if you get involved in a co-op program. Unfortunately, I was 19 and it was my first semester away from home. I was not as focused as I should have been. I spent way too much time in the rec center and not in class.

“I had a 2.7 after my first semester at Texas Tech. I called NASA and asked if there was any chance that they would accept someone with a 2.7. Once they stopped laughing at me, they said ‘don’t call back until you have at least a 3.2’. So I stayed in school. I wasn’t allowed to co-op, but after my senior year I had a 3.2 so I was able to get into NASA on a summer internship. The internship allowed me to get a foot in the door and day one I asked my boss ‘is there any way to convert this into a co-op?’ and he said ‘no’. I decided I’d ask my boss if he would let me work at two other departments at NASA so I could get some exposure. I would do my job here and I would spend extra hours working on projects. I told my boss ‘at the end of the summer, I’m going to have three letters of recommendation from three different people, and you’re going to come with me to the co-op office and you’re going to demand that I be converted’ and he said OK.  So we did that and I went to the co-op office and I was able to get converted. I didn’t know I could do that, I was just trying anything.”

At this point, Kerrick had already shown more than enough resilience and determination to make her way into NASA. Even with this determination, however, she would soon learn that it would take even more to make it where she wanted to be.

“When I became a co-op, NASA was supposed to give me a permanent job when I graduated,” Kerrick said. “Two months before graduation I got a letter that said ‘we regret to inform you that the president has declared a hiring freeze on all civil servants, so we won’t be able to offer you a job when you graduate’. I got the letter in October, I graduated in December, and the hiring freeze carried on in the spring.”

The hiring freeze would turn out to be a blessing in disguise, as Kerrick used the extra time she had to make sure that, by the time the freeze was over, the people at NASA would remember who she was in a positive way. Her solution for this ended up helping her in the best way possible.

“I started calling them every Friday at 1 (p.m.),” Kerrick said. “I wanted them to remember my name. I called every Friday and said ‘Hello, this is Ginger Kerrick from Texas Tech University calling to enquire about the status of the hiring freeze,’ and they would say ‘ah yes, Ginger. The way it works is the president will release the hiring freeze and we’ll be notified and then we will call you so you don’t need to call’. I would reply OK. I did that all of January and February. Right around March I started sensing a little hostility so I thought ‘let me change my approach and let me tell some more jokes,’ because I wanted them to remember my name but in a good way. Finally, in April I called and they had me on speaker phone and I could hear people giggling in the background. After I gave my little spiel they said ‘we’ve been waiting for you to call. This morning we were given permission to hire 12 of the 60 graduating co-ops and you were one of the 12. So I was able to get in.”

Ginger Kerrick’s story is one of sheer tenacity and resilience. Even when every obstacle was stacked against her in ways that would make anyone else give up, she found a way to overcome them and then some.

Visits: 172

Share this story: