NASA’s Cauffman to give keynote address for Engineers Week at Mason

Sandra Cauffman, NASA, George Mason University

Sandra Cauffman is the deputy director of the Earth Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

George Mason University alumna Sandra Cauffman returns to campus Thursday, Feb. 22, as the keynote speaker for the Volgenau School of Engineering’s Engineers Week.

Cauffman, BS Electrical Engineering ’88,  BS Physics ’88, MS Electrical Engineering ’95, serves as the deputy director of the Earth Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

She provides critical executive leadership, strategic direction and overall management of the space agency’s entire Earth Science $2 billion portfolio, while keeping a watchful eye on the 16 satellites her division currently has in orbit.

Cauffman is overseeing 16 new additional space missions planned for launch between 2018 and 2022. Four of them will launch this year.

The Costa Rica native recently spoke with Mason Communications Officer John Hollis about five things she took with her from Mason that helped prepare her for the job she has today.

Mason was where I learned to speak good English: When I first came to Mason, I had already been in college for three and a half years in Costa Rica. I had taken three years of English in high school, but I hadn’t taken any during college. George Mason had a great English Language Institute, where you could really immerse yourself in English. That was the first time that I had done that and Mason’s large international student population really helped make me feel at ease while doing it. I got to meet people from all over the world and learn English with them. It was really nice.

Everything we did at Mason was very hands-on: The degree I received in electrical engineering was very hands-on. It wasn’t just learning about things in the classroom. We were able to get into the lab and learn by building things from scratch. That was invaluable in allowing me to feel very comfortable in any lab environment.

I met my husband at Mason: I met my husband, Stephen Cauffman, while we were both students at Mason. We both graduated from the physics program. We started dating on Oct. 19, 1987, and we got married 11 months later in September 1988. We’ll be celebrating our 30th anniversary this fall.

I grew as a person because of Mason’s diversity: When I was growing up in Costa Rica, the diversity was not great. I met mostly Americans and folks from other Central American countries. It was amazing arriving at Mason and meeting so many people from all over the world. I met people from England, I met people from Egypt and from all over. I actually dated a Korean guy. You get to see that diversity at Mason, and you see that we all want the same thing. We all want the best for our kids, the best for ourselves. It was very eye-opening.

I learned from some of the best teachers: All of our professors in the engineering school were extremely good and very, very knowledgeable. There were world-class professors in engineering. They had come to Mason from some of the biggest name universities out there, such as Harvard and MIT. We learned from the best.

Cauffman will be speaking at George’s in the Johnson Center from 2:30-3:30 p.m. Feb. 22. A reception will follow.