March 30, 2024

An Interview with New BoD Member Jenni Ginsburg

With the start of the new year, Higher Orbits is excited to welcome new members to the organization’s Board of Directors.  One new member bringing her technical skillset and passion for student STEM inspiration to the table is Jenni Ginsburg! Originally from Jacksonville, Jenni Ginsburg grew up under the influence of the Space Coast which drove her to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Florida. She began her work as an Energy Engineer, then gradually moved into Fire Protection Engineering where she worked in-depth on collaboration projects with NASA. This transition sparked a desire for additional formal education, which drove her to pursue a Master’s in Fire Protection Engineering from the University of Maryland. She continued her career path in Fire Protection Engineering and now works as a Fire Protection Section Manager at Burns & McDonnell.  Jenni Ginsburg is a woman who has shown great leadership skills and holds an understanding of the value of learning and opportunity.  In an interview, she gave more insight into her personal perspective, her vision for her time on the Board of Directors, and advice for students rising into the STEM industry.

What initially inspired you to join the Higher Orbits Board of Directors?

After meeting Michelle Lucas, CEO and Founder of Higher Orbits, at the Space Symposium Jenni was introduced to the organization and the programs provided.  They maintained their connection over a few years, and she became more closely acquainted with the program's mission.  As she came to a point where she wanted to use her passion to inspire others in STEM, she looked to Higher Orbits.

“It was kind of like being at the right place at the right time,” explained Ginsburg. “I wanted to get involved and support STEM initiatives and there was no better place to do it than with Higher Orbits!”

Being previously involved in STEM inspiration programs during her education and becoming a mother in recent years also gave her an extra push to reinvest herself for the sake of others.  Reflecting, she considered how her own mentors had helped her and expressed her desire to pass the torch and become a mentor in her own right.

“I feel like I had a lot of mentors growing up that encouraged me to go for it and to pursue a career in an industry that's usually male-dominated,” she elaborated. “I wanted to be able to pass that along as well and give back for the help I felt that I got growing up.”

What are some of the things that stand out to you in your experience with Higher Orbits?

While only officially involved with Higher Orbits and the Board of Directors since January, her longstanding association with passionate leader, Michelle Lucas, has kept her in the loop for years. She has been able to see the growth of the organization and understands very well what sets this organization apart from others in STEM inspiration.

“I think the amount of time that we invest in some of the students has stood out to me. It’s not just that touch point when they're at a Go For Launch! event, but continuing that mentoring relationship into the future,” Ginsburg explained on her experience with Higher Orbits. “Because meeting somebody for one day, you get that little bit of a touch point that inspires people but being able to continue that relationship and encourage them through the highs and the lows, is really what makes Higher Orbits unique in terms of how they approach the STEM relationships.”       

In addition to more general exposure to Higher Orbits, Jenni Ginsburg also saw the program in action at Go For Launch! Space Coast in the summer of 2023.  She was able to attend as a special speaker and also assisted students with their experiment designs.

“I was super excited to be involved, even just in a speaking capacity,” said Ginsburg.  “Those kids are so smart, and it's awe-inspiring to see some of the stuff they come up with! It's really exciting to see what kids these days are capable of and are thinking about when given the right encouragement and support staff behind them.”

What are you hoping to accomplish as a member of the Higher Orbits Board of Directors?

As a technical professional, Jenni Ginsburg has vast amounts of experience handling problems in many topics and works all across the STEM industry in her specialty.

“I work in fire protection engineering,” stated Ginsburg. “I think that provides a little bit more depth to the existing board, and I'm really hoping to be able to bring that added perspective to future Go For Launch! events. I'd love to be a speaker at more events when possible.”

She also expressed her excitement to broaden student’s options with her background in facilities engineering saying, “It gives people a different view as to how you can support STEM and the space industry. You don't have to be on the vehicle side. You can also support with the facilities needed to get to space.”

What initially inspired you to work in the STEM industries?

 Having great leaders and technical minds on the Board of Directors is a high priority for Higher Orbits, and we are proud to have Jenni Ginsburg joining the roster! Her career, character, and passion have made her an incredible asset that will surely help to further the organization’s mission to open student’s minds to the broad possibilities of STEM. Ginsburg is an incredible and inspiring figure who is not only willing to but is passionate about connecting the next generation of STEM to their futures. It is an honor to have Jenni Ginsburg on the Higher Orbits Board of Directors!

Ginsburg describes the influence of proximity to STEM and how being a Jacksonville native as well as family support filled her childhood with science.

“I had the privilege of being able to witness things firsthand,” she said. “My parents were taking me to the park around the street from the house and watching shuttle launches, so I think that kind of had a hand in it. Also, my grandfather was a mechanical engineer, and I spent a lot of time with him growing up until he passed away. He was very hands-on and often wanted me to help him build stuff with him. So, I think he planted the seed that bloomed over the years into wanting to do something technical for my career.”

While more women are joining the STEM industry, women still make up a minority in STEM fields. As of 2021, they held only 35% of STEM jobs, and only make up 21% of engineering majors. Jenni Ginsburg pointed out the significance that having female role models in STEM made in her own life. 

“There was one specific person at the Challenger Learning Center who really stuck out to me. She was the program instructor, and her name was Sheree Kearns. She mentored me and then kept that relationship going after the program was done, which really helped me. Also, not on a personal interaction level, Eileen Collins has been super inspirational with her progression through the space program and what she was able to do to break the glass ceiling.”

During your career, you have held many positions in mechanical engineering and fire protection. How has your experience in these positions influenced your perspective on promoting STEM careers to the younger generation?

“I had a unique kind of take of where I ended up with my career,” explained Ginsburg. “I started doing energy audits for Kennedy Space Center as a contractor. My role was to go through and figure out where they could be more energy efficient with their facilities, LED lighting, changing, HVAC, etc. Then a spot opened in the design and engineering group for fire protection. I knew nothing about fire. I joke it was quite literally a ‘trial by fire,’ but I really wanted to get into design, so I decided, ‘Let me give it a shot and see.’ I think it kind of ties back into having the right support structure, and then you're more willing to take on those types of challenges. Even as, ‘an adult,’ fresh out of college, I had a group behind me supporting me. I think that makes me want to continue that thought process through how I mentor and engage with students and give them support because I know that I needed to go through my different career paths to get where I am today as a manager.”

After earning your Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, you went on to earn your Master’s degree in Fire Protection Engineering. What pushed you to pursue further specialization? And, how did that decision open new doors in your career?

Jenni explained that initially, a master’s degree was not a part of her educational vision. But, after establishing her career in Mechanical Engineering and finding herself headed toward specializing in fire protection design, she decided to formalize her specialty educationally.

“I graduated with my bachelor's and was like, ‘I am done with this. I got my degree, and I'm good to go!’” she recalled. “But it was that drive to learn when I found fire protection because I honestly didn't know it was a discipline that had such a unique specialization. And then all I wanted was to go back to school to learn more.”

You have been closely involved in engineering design processes throughout your career. What are some qualities or habits that you would encourage students to develop if they hope to find success as part of a design team?

On this, Ginsburg said, “I think some great skills are attention to detail and the ability to identify how you learn best. If you learn, adapt, and grow, that's key. Having attention to detail provides trust to go and thoroughly research things and come back to the table with all of the information is the other key point.”

What are some keys to your leadership style that you would highlight? 

Leadership styles differ from person to person. Having a diverse group of leaders on the Board of Directors helps to provide high-quality advice from well-rounded professionals who are intimately involved in the industry.

For Jenni Ginsburg, she says, “I think being genuine and authentic have been my key differentiatiors. I'm not perfect. I don't know everything. I'm going to make mistakes and mess up because I am human, but I'm going to own up to that and I expect my team members to do the same. When issues arise, let's figure out how to solve it together as a team. It’s important to build relationships with your team members and know what is going on in their lives.”

This open and genuine leadership style can be very effective as it considers the needs of all team members, encourages honest communication, and helps to build positive relationships among the team!

What encouragement would you give to students who are interested in STEM but unsure of how to pursue their interests professionally?

Jenni’s final piece of advice for students is, “Don't give up, and don't be afraid to knock on doors and ask for help! I have found that this industry is full of a lot of amazing people. When asked, they will support you to the best of their abilities and encourage you. And if they don't know the right people, they may have an appropriate connection. Be willing to take the risk and ask questions because the worst someone can say is no. If you never take the chance, then you're stuck where you are to begin with.”

About the author

Jodie is a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pursuing an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. She has always been fascinated by space and STEM, and has been fuelled by the strong aerospace community at Embry-Riddle. This interest in STEM and a love for writing have pushed Jodie to apply these passions as a Communications Intern at Higher Orbits in 2023.

Jodie Cory

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