February 23, 2007
Most people around JPL know Dr. Magalene Powell-Meeks simply as Mag. As JPL's first Associate Chief Information Officer, Powell-Meeks is responsible for making sure all of the lab's information technology needs are met. "I am a problem solver and a strategist," she says. "I also love working with people and with gadgets, so this job is the best on the planet where I'm able to do all four."
Powell-Meeks came to JPL as a student intern with the Cooperative Education Program almost 22 years ago from Talladega College, a historically black college in Alabama. She worked at JPL for six months and got hooked on Southern California's sunny weather. After receiving her physics degree from Talladega, she returned to JPL to work full time as a junior instrumentation systems engineer.
Born the youngest of eight children in Mobile, Ala., Mag was raised with a tremendous work ethic. One of her 10th grade teachers encouraged her to attend college away from her hometown, and study math and science. "It was some of the best advice I've ever received," Mag says. "She told me I had a natural ability to do well in science and math, and if I continued to work hard I would have professional opportunities in areas not traditionally dominated by black females."
Powell-Meeks believes knowledge is power. While working at JPL, she went back to school to earn advanced degrees in engineering management, computer science, and information systems. "If you surround yourself with smart people, you can learn from them," she says. "We're never too old to grow and learn. In fact, one of the most enjoyable functions I perform as a manager is identifying good people."
When she mentors students, she tells them to find something they really like to do and make that their career. "There is nothing like being excited about your job and being paid for it," she says.
Mag lives in Rancho Cucamonga with her husband. She has a twin sister who lives 3 miles away in the same community. "We're opposites; she's good at what I'm not so great in, so together we make one great person."
To wind down from her fast-paced job, she likes to read and loves music. "I believe in working hard and playing hard, because life is really short. Everything for me begins with a vision, both in my professional and personal life," she says. "I dream big because nothing is better than living a life filled with integrity and purpose. That is what makes life exciting and work fun."