Ordinarily Extraordinary - Conversations with women in STEM

106. Anna Litvinova: Flight Test Engineer; BS Aerospace Engineering

May 10, 2023 Kathy Nelson Episode 106
Ordinarily Extraordinary - Conversations with women in STEM
106. Anna Litvinova: Flight Test Engineer; BS Aerospace Engineering
Show Notes Transcript

Anna Litvinova is a Flight Test Engineer. She graduated from college with a Bachelor’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering about three years ago and spends her time writing test plans, executing test missions on planes per those test plans, and analyzing the data from the tests. Anna immigrated to the US after growing up in Russia and then Germany. She is currently working on a Master’s Degree in Flight Test Engineering at the National Test Pilot School.

What do we talk about in this episode?

"If one never tries, one never knows" - Anna shares her experience growing up as the daughter of two physicists and being interested in airplanes and aerospace from a very young age. She also shares her experiences coming to the US at 16 years old, leaving her friends behind, the challenges that brought and how she overcame some of those challenges.

  1. What does a flight test engineer do? How does one become a flight test engineer?
  2. Challenges of "fitting in" in coming to a new high school from another country. Learning a new language while taking classes with the content in the new language.
  3. Anna's hobbies of travel and photography.

Music used in the podcast: Higher Up, Silverman Sound Studio

You can support my podcast on Patreon here: https://patreon.com/user?u=72701887&utm_medium=clipboard_copy&utm_source=copyLink&utm_campaign=creatorshare_creator&utm_content=join_link


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the largest transportation agency of the U.S. government and regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the country as well as over surrounding international waters. (Wikipedia)

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (ASEA) is an agency of the European Union with responsibility for civil aviation safety. It carries out certification, regulation and standardisation and also performs investigation and monitoring. (Wikipedia)

Aileron - a hinged flight control surface usually forming part of the trailing edge of each wing of a fixed-wing aircraft. Ailerons are used in pairs to control the aircraft in roll, which normally results in a change in flight path due to the tilting of the lift vector. (Wikipedia)

Aerospace Engineering - the primary field of engineering concerned with the development of aircraft and spacecraft. It has two major and overlapping branches: aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering. (Wikipedia)

Rhythmic Gymnastics - a sport in which gymnasts perform on a floor with an apparatus: hoop, ball, clubs, ribbon. The sport combines elements of gymnastics, dance and calisthenics; gymnasts must be strong, flexible, agile, dexterous and coordinated. (Wikipedia)

"Man's Search for Meaning" is a 1946 book by Viktor Frankl chronicling his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and describing his psychotherapeutic method, which involved identifying a purpose in life to feel positive about, and then immersively imagining that outcome. (Wikipedia)

National Test Pilot School (NTPS) - The mission of the National Test Pilot School is to educate and train military and civilian aviation personnel so that each graduate increases flight test competency, improves flight test and aviation safety, and enhances the aerospace profession worldwide. (https://www.ntps.edu)

Episode 106 - Anna Litvinova - Flight Test Engineer

Kathy: [00:00:00]

Welcome to ordinarily extraordinary conversations with women in stem. I'm your host, Kathy Nelson, an electrical engineer who loves to hear and share stories of other women in stem. To start with today. I would like to let you know about some exciting new things that I'm doing with the podcast. I have new ways to connect with you and opportunities for you to support the podcast. 

You can connect with me through Patreon, which provides opportunities to connect and also support the podcast. I've been doing this podcast for about three years and have over a hundred episodes. This is all independently produced. And if you could consider supporting the podcast so I can continue to bring these women's stories to the world, I would really appreciate it. 

So, you can look for that man Patreon. And you can also find links to support the podcast and ways to connect with me on my website, which is at www.ordinarily-extraordinary.com. [00:01:00] And if you'd like to send me email to connect or offer suggestions of topics, you can email me at ordinarilyextraordinarypod@gmail.com. 

So, I get to find out about the best jobs through this podcast. And there are so many amazing women out there just doing absolutely amazing things. Today's guest is really fun, and I am just excited to share her story. 

Anna Litvinova is a flight test engineer. She does some really cool things like designing test plans and then flying in planes to run the test plans. Anna grew up in Russia in Germany before coming to the U S at 16, where she completed high school, went to university and now works. She has a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering and is currently working on a master's in-flight test engineering. 

Anna has had so many amazing experiences that she shares on this podcast. In addition to talking about her job and what she does. It was really such a fun conversation. And I am just absolutely delighted to be able to share her story. 

Anna: Hi, Kathy, 

Kathy: Hi, [00:02:00] Anna. So good to see you.

Anna: Good to see you too. Yeah, I hope the setup is going to work. I just moved over the past week just getting situated in a new space.

Kathy: Oh, you sound really good.

 is it a good move for you? Is it a better place or 

Anna: yes, very much. Much happier about it. It's very spacious. It's very light, lots of like natural light and that makes my day much better when I get home from work. 

Kathy: Yeah, I totally agree with you. Natural light is important. I live in Minnesota where it's always I don't want to say always cloudy, but wintertime can be very cloudy and Natural light, but clouded natural light, and I miss sunshine and all that stuff, I think is like really important. So, do you live with anyone?

Do you have pets? Are you by yourself in your new space or what's that for you?

Anna: Yeah. I live on my own. some of my family lives in Michigan. My mom lives in Michigan, and she does have a cat. So, then I visit them. Obviously having grown up with a cat, there's lots of, like an affection. Always [00:03:00] definitely missing him. But he is much better off in Michigan.

I think being able to have a bigger house run around there and so much better than my apartment.

Kathy: What part of the country are you in?


Anna: in Savannah, Georgia.

Kathy: Okay. so, I am really excited to have you on the podcast and learn more about what you do because I think you, your job sounds like a really cool job. One of the things that I think is really interesting as I talk to more women on my podcast, is I'm like, oh my God, there's so many cool jobs that I had no idea existed when I was growing up.

And I'm like, I want to do this for a job. I'm, getting close to retirement, so I'm not going to actually change jobs, but you have a job That sounds really interesting. So, you are a flight test engineer. Is your job as cool as it sounds?

Anna: First of all, thank you so much for having me, and it's been it's been very, Interesting for me to also looking back at some of your episodes and for example, the episode up at the wellness engineer I thought that was [00:04:00] like so interesting and so fun and similarly to you, there are so many jobs out there that I think are so exciting.

And I'm also, I wish I would have like several lives to be able to try all of them. 

Kathy: I totally agree with you on that.

Anna: so, coming back to your question, I think flight test engineering it is a fun, it is a very exciting job. I have the opportunity, or I'm lucky enough to be able to fly on the job several times per week in a very, whenever we have a very busy period or are in a certification process or to certification of an airplane.

There are definitely less busier times where it's a lot of like data crunching, data analysis, report writing. Some companies a flight test engineer, flight test engineering role or a job can look different depending on the company where you work. For example, flight test engineers are very often in the control room in organizations were flying on the airplane is not as ideal, where it is a one seat airplane.

Flighty engineers [00:05:00] usually monitor. So that being said the company where, or that I am with I'm able to actually fly and I'm so grateful for that.

Kathy: what is a flight test engineer?

Anna: Essentially there is the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, or the EASA, which is the European equivalent Agency that is a federal agency that prescribes certain laws, certain regulations that an airplane needs to attest to or perform towards. And those laws include anything and everything on your takeoff or landing runway distances.

All kinds of maneuvers in an airplane needs to be able to do. And so, when a company wants to produce an airplane, this airplane needs to be able to do all of these things first before being able to be mass produced and then eventually sold to customers. So as a flight test engineer essentially, we write a test plan first that it aligns with those certain regulations.

And then we go out and [00:06:00] test per that approved test plan. That test plan goes through a rigorous process all kinds of reviews by cognizant engineers or management by safety officers within the company and then the FAA as well. And afterwards we test per that test plan. Testing can take several weeks depending on how large your test plan is.

And then during the execution, I, as the flight flights engineer, I sit in the back of a cabin off an airplane. So, if you imagine an airplane completely empty inside, strapped off like no interior whatsoever. So, you have the two test pilots in the front, in the cockpits, and then in the back you have an empty airplane.

And then you have two racks, at least within our plants. We have two racks for flight test engineers and those racks have two monitors on them. And then computers for us to be able to look at data real time. And we have all the required [00:07:00] safety equipment on board, of course. And for any case that something may go wrong.

And so on, on a flight, I wait, I'm present on the flight as a flight test engineer. I walk the test pilots through what maneuver they're about to do. They're executing the maneuver. I watch them in real time. And then usually we fly two flight test engineers and then two test pilots on board.

Depending on your risk level of the mission. And then after getting back to the office usually. If you take a few days to analyze the data and then eventually that data goes into a formal report.

A report can be hundreds of pages long, including all the time histories and whatnot, whatever is required for a rigorous data review. And then the report gets reviewed by the applicable agency and that demonstrates the ability of the airplane to do all the maneuvers successfully.

And then yeah, and then I think once it's reviewed by the respective agency [00:08:00] the airplane is eventually ready to be produced and then sold to customers.

How did you become a flight test engineer? What got you interested in doing this for a job?

That's a great question actually. I've been asking myself that recently. Growing up I wanted to do anything and everything related to aviation. I wanted to be a test pilot. I wanted to be a flight attendant. I wanted to be an air traffic controller for one reason, or the other things didn't align on those jobs.

And once it became time for me to choose what I wanted to do for my undergraduate career, when I was graduating high school, I was watching quite a lot of air crash investigations and just in general reading a lot about aviation because I had that passion from a younger age. And I wasn't bad at like math.

Engineering was the route that made the most sense for me at that time. I went with aerospace engineering because that kind of, I was like best of both worlds. I like aviation, I like airplanes. I'm relatively [00:09:00] good at math. and physics. So, I went with that degree. And then once I was in my studies, I think in my junior year.

I really became interested in one of the electives that were offered at my school, which was a flight test engineering introductory class. And I just fell in love with it. everything aligned what I always wanted to do. When I was closer to graduation, I started applying for jobs, looking for jobs in that field.

Never expected that I would be so fortunate enough to be able to start right out of college in that in that field over that career. And yeah, so that was my path towards it.

Kathy: So, you graduated with your bachelor's degree in 2020.

Anna: so, you've been doing this job for, what about going on just about three years.

Yeah, about three years. So, I started in August 2020. So that's two and a half years is. Yeah.

Kathy: is it what you were expecting, or did you know what you expect? Is it more than what you expected? Like how has your career been [00:10:00] so far versus what you were thinking it might be?

Anna: So, I think it's Definitely exceeded my expectations. The learning curve is incredibly steeped. But I think that fits my personality and my attitudes just right, because I'm naturally very curious and I've done constant wanting to learn more, wanting to try different things, and being in that environment and just being able to absorb, everything like a sponge was just what I was looking for and so much more.

I think I'm definitely really grateful for all the responsibilities and for all the opportunities that I've been given. So yeah, it's been great.

Kathy: Okay, so I want to ask a question that is, probably hard, so you just you can answer it however you choose to. What is a typical day in your life? But I know you talk about some days you're on planes, some days you're writing reports. If you could pick a typical day, what would that look like?

Like what would a day in the life of a [00:11:00] flight test engineer be possibly?

Anna: Sure, I can, I'll pick a day where we would have a test flight, for example, and I'll start it off with the evening, let's say, or the night before. The evening or the second half of the day before, I am usually planning out the mission that we will be doing the next day. So, planning out the mission includes putting together specific documentation that would include the aircraft configuration, the weight that we would be at, and then all the maneuvers that we'll be doing throughout the day.

 so, all these maneuvers, I usually share it with the crew that will be on the mission the next day. So, I make sure that I share it with my engineer who will be on board with me during that time. And then the two test pilots that will be on board as, as well. And then I make sure that I answer all of their questions prior to the execution and the next day.

So, then the actual day starts from an [00:12:00] early morning. We usually try to get out relatively early because a lot of tests are weather dependent. Like we want calm conditions if we don't want rain, or we don't want it to be really windy. The first step before a mission is that we get together in a room.

It's usually a conference room. It's called a mission brief. That's when the whole crew gets together. So, the four of us, we discuss the whole mission objective, the test points that we'll be doing. The test points are the maneuvers. And then after all that is really clear to everyone, we go through the safety procedures.

So, in the event of some risk existing that is associated with the maneuver, what would we be doing in response to that? that's a very important part of our brief to always emphasize on safety however possible. And then afterwards once everyone is comfortable that, that mission brief usually takes about an hour. [00:13:00]

And then we, go into the airplane, let's say at nine in the morning. And then depending on how many maneuvers, how many test points we need to do throughout the day, a flight can take four to five hours if there's some refueling in between. We come back to our home airports where we're located, refuel, and then go out again to complete any additional testing.

And then once we return, we gather once again in that conference room as a crew is called a debrief. So, after the mission, we discuss the results and go over any questions that may have come up throughout the flights. And then as I touched on this before already, but on the airplane, I'm sitting in front of my computer screen.

I'm watching the data communicating with the crew. Same goes for my other engineer who is on board with me as well. She or he has we work as a team. We back each other up and divide our tasks between each other. And then so jumping [00:14:00] back to once we come back, we do the debrief, and then I usually go back to my space to my desk and wrap up any documentation that may have That may be outstanding.

Usually write a short summary report. That's what we call it. Usually describing what was done throughout the mission, what was accomplished and the results. That's usually a one page max two-page report just informing the organization of what was accomplished on that day. And then usually that pretty much ends a typical flying day.

Kathy: So, are these like private plane size? Planes, are they commercial sized planes? So, what kind of what kind of size plane are you in?

Anna: And if one could compare it to a commercial size plane, I would say our airplanes can fit about 19 to 20 passengers if you would distribute the seating. In a way it is in a commercial. Airplane. But our airplanes [00:15:00] are usually used for business owners and any special clients, company owners, as I mentioned CEOs and government officials and such.

Kathy: Okay. I get horrible motion sickness. I'm going to guess you probably don't. Do you not? Or do you ever.

Anna: Knock on wood, I haven't gotten motion stick yet. We do carry specific, we call them, there's not really a name for it, but specific baggies that in case feels sick on the airplane. We're able to take care of ourselves and even if someone starts feeling not really involved throughout the mission, they're always very encouraged to speak up.

We can always turn around, come back home to be able to take care of ourselves. 

Kathy: What about, okay, so in these maneuvers that you are, that you, that the pilots are doing, are any of them like scary? Are they, like what kind of things are they testing and what kind of things are they what are you doing on, on, on these test plans and do you ever get [00:16:00] scared?

Anna: so, I'm part of a flight test subgroup which focuses on aerodynamic performance flight testing, and we also have the avionics testing and then the power plan and mechanical systems. So, the power plan mechanical systems group deals with a lot of the engine testing. And then the Ionics group deals with any of the digital computers installed on the airplane, any interfaces that the pilots interact with.

And the Air performance group. We deal with a lot of the performing qualities, the handling qualities of the airplane kind of testing. So that's what I have the most experience in at this time. And some of the maneuvers that we do is, for example, decelerating to a very slow speed. So, this finding our stall speed confirming that this is where the stall speed is, like matching the predictions that were made for the airplane because there are certain predictions that have been already calculated.

So, we are [00:17:00] confirming that those match and then some other testing has been part, I've been part of a lot of landing testing. essentially making sure that the airplane is able to land at a certain angle, at a certain speed. If the airplane is coming in. And then I approach at a slower speed than he would usually be at.

We want to make sure that the airplane is still able to land. And then we do some slight controls testing, for example, that requires us to disable one of the essential control surfaces like the Aron. And so, a little bit of everything. It's a very big I guess matrix one can call it. There's a lot of characteristics that need to be tested, but those are broken down by test plan.

So, each test plan has its own purpose. So, there's like a flight control test plan, there is a handling qualities test plan a little bit of everything. And in terms of [00:18:00] being scared I've never I've never been scared before. And because I think that's due to the fact that it's always very emphasized on safety and being able to speak up if you see that something is not right or if something doesn't seem right to us.

And also, I remember one of the most one of the most senior engineers that we have on the team within our company, he's absolutely brilliant, and has been with the company for several years and has seen so many programs already. He mentioned that if I was, if I would ever feel unsafe, I would've never been I would've never stepped on, on the airplane. And I think hearing that from someone like him, someone who's so experienced and so knowledgeable, just gave me that assurance even more.

Kathy: Do test plans always go how you think they're going to go? Or do you ever get some test plans that are completely different than what you thought they would be in [00:19:00] theory.

Anna: I think when we were picking the maneuvers for the test plan, we go very much per the input from different parties and which includes like cognizant engineers, for example, or test pilots. And we try to, or as much as we try to work very closely together people sometimes have different opinions or make you consider something even more.

For example, one of the cognizant engineers could let's see. Once when reviewing my test plan, he could mention something like, oh, have you considered this, or have you considered doing this maneuver? So that So it's when I don't get that kind of feedback, it's it makes me really think more actively and making any changes and makes me realize, oh I haven't thought of that.

And I guess we could test it in that way. 

Kathy: So, it sounds like you have had a really positive experience starting out in your career from school. How, like in your like company or your work group or [00:20:00] the other engineers that you work with, like how many of them are women compared to men? Are you like very much in a minority? Are you in just somewhat of a minority?

I'm going to assume you're probably in some sort of a minority.

Anna: yeah, so definitely. A minority. And but I, we've been seeing more and more women joining our team, joining the company which is amazing to see. And I always find that very inspiring and always makes me very happy. So, I think even thinking back to college, in my aerospace classes, we had maybe like a handful of young ladies in, in my classes, like less than 10 for sure.

And then now in my workspace, I would say maybe about, at least within an hour department in the flight test department, it is about, I would say [00:21:00] 10%, 10 to 15% are women. So, there's progress to be made, but I'm hopeful that there's more to come and I think we try to do outreach events and trying to attract the younger generation, empower the younger generation, and hoping to see more and more of a time to come.

Kathy: So how were the men that you work with when you started working? So, I worked in the utility industry as an electrical engineer. And when I started, I was the first woman that was ever in the field with like linemen and stuff. And

Anna: Wow.

Kathy: for the most part they were like the, like really welcoming.

And there was some challenge, it's, it, there were some challenges, but only from May, maybe like a couple of jerks, right? Like for the most part. 

it was a pretty positive experience. And for the most part, I was like this unique unicorn and they're like, let me take you up in a bucket truck.

Let me like show you this. Let me show you that, whatever. How has your experience been? Cause I think it's really hard when you're coming in and you're young [00:22:00] and you're female, it can be intimidating. How has your experience with your like male colleagues when you're coming into the company,

Anna: Yes. So, I think that's something that a lot of women unfortunately have to deal with is having to break that ice when starting out as a new person and then realizing that one is different. But I think for me, similarly to you it was a, where it still is it's a very positive experience.

And when I started right out of college I went into my job. Not focusing on the fact that I am different or that I'm female, I'm just, I just spent in with the mentality that I'm here to learn. I'm here to contribute to the team. I'm here to really be as helpful as I can and just absorb everything.

Like I never thought twice about really distinguishing myself just because of my gender. [00:23:00]And I think that has really helped me only taking the positives from everything and from our environments. I think overall, our team is thankfully, or our company overall is very welcoming of women.

And I have not dealt with anything specifically targeted towards my gender. I think there have definitely been times were. I know that there was, it was my shortcoming, but that was because I didn't know enough, or I wasn't experienced enough to make a certain call or a certain decision.

I think, there's the combination of, being newly graduated and young and female, and so there's, there's a lot that goes into it that's not. 

Kathy: necessarily just being female or male or there's a lot that goes into it. But 

it sounds like you came into a work environment that has been very positive and has not, and welcoming, which is the way that it should be.

That's the that's the 

way that it, that's the way that the world should be,

Anna: Yeah. [00:24:00]

So grateful for that. Yeah. Yeah.

Kathy: Okay. I have a question for you. So, your degree is in aerospace, aeronautical, and Astro nautical engineering. What is the difference between the three terms?

Anna: Actually, so aerospace engineering was my overall degree. That was data degree that was awarded to me. And throughout the program we took classes that focused on space and then of classes that focused on airplanes, so aviation and then airs and then space sciences. So, for space sciences we took classes, such orbital mechanics or for the aviation side, we took aircraft design for example.

I know that several schools throughout the nation do it differently. Some students get to choose which route they want to go. So, if you go the RN article way, that's, I believe that's you would go the airplane [00:25:00] aviation route, and if you go the astronautical or the aerospace route you would go towards the space sector or that's where your, that's what your classes would be targeted towards.

I think that's the wording for it. I'm maybe confusing it, but that's my understanding. I had a mix up both basically.

Kathy: Okay. tell me about what was your education experience like? You talked about that there were like very few women, but how was your college experience and did you find any challenges there? Or was that also a really good, positive experience? What was your college experience like?

Anna: So overall I think I had a good starting point or college prepared me really well for my career. It was a smaller school with a smaller aerospace engineering program. so, once you progress past your sophomore year, the classes started to become more focused on the engineering aspect.

That's when you have all your prerequisites completed, right? Like [00:26:00] All your calc, all your physics that's when you would actually go into Classes focused on aerospace. And so, I wish I would've had the opportunity to have gained experience in different student clubs. We had students involved, but like NASA projects or the solar car they always seemed so engaged in it, but I was really, I was just so focused on doing a, I think naturally I was trying to be a perfectionist and really focused on my classes and in my ongoing internship.

So, I, that's one thing I wish I would've done more of like thinking back, like being more involved on like hands-on projects. Because we had a lot of it available, even though it was a smaller university, a smaller airspace engineering program. In terms of the environment there and my professors think for the most part most of them were encouraging.

Of course, there were some setbacks or [00:27:00] some comments that weren't always supportive, I would say. But I just always reminded myself that I'm doing this to follow my passion, and this is my dream and no one else's. And no matter what I just need to believe in myself and then I'll get there.

Kathy: Yeah, I'm tired of comments. I just mean like in general I don't really get comments now, but just the fact that women still get comments and girls still get comments and it's frustrating. I just want things to get better and get better faster so

that people don't have to have comments that either, make them feel less than, or in some cases like, turn them away or keep them from even entering. I just want it to be a better place.

Anna: exactly. Just a more inclusive one, right? Like why do we need to differentiate ourselves or as you said, have, receive, uncalled comments, right? Or like criticisms. [00:28:00] So

hopefully and eventually,

Kathy: hopefully. in your LinkedIn profile, you talked about moving around a lot when you were growing up, so why did you move around so much and how has that experience impacted your life and maybe what you want to do.

Anna: I moved from Russia when I was eight years old. Moved from Russia to Germany and then in Germany I got the opportunity to live in Munich and then in Frankfurt. And I lived in Germany in a total for about eight years, and then moved to the United States for my junior and senior year of high school, and then followed by college.

So, I moved around because my mom, she's an incredible scientist. she is doing physics research and so that has taken us.

Kathy: Oh, I love your mom already. I love physics.

Anna: She will really appreciate hearing that. No, she's incredibly smart, so passionate about what she does, and [00:29:00] I'm hopeful and so excited to see what she has coming up. Yeah, essentially that kind of drove us to move around because she had either different opportunity that she got offered.

And so, I think one, the way that it has impacted me is definitely becoming more open-minded and really appreciative of the blessings that I have or the opportunities that I'm having. It was a bit challenging once having moved to the US because. My English wasn't great, and I just left all of my friends in Germany, and it was at an age where you don't want to move across the world. but I think I successfully overcame that, and I'm thinking back of course, grateful that we got to come here and because all the experiences and the opportunity that I'm having here in this United States are unimaginable. 

Kathy: I think it's really interesting where people's passions and stuff come from. So, was your mom a contributing factor [00:30:00] to you wanting to go into a STEM field or even like aerospace specifically? What kind of role did she play or other people, in your past play into what you wanted to do?

Anna: Yeah, so she for sure was someone who always encouraged me to be in STEM and from a younger age I would do, I guess like my education was, heavily emphasized on like math and just science in general. And I wasn't something extraordinary at it, I think but I was good.

And I most, for the most part enjoyed. Math, like while I was in school. And then, so my dad, he's also a physicist I think I was heavily influenced by both of them from my childhood. 

Kathy: did your parents meet now? I'm just curious did they meet in school or how did they meet? Did, or did they work together or?

Anna: yeah. Yeah, so they did meet in university back in Russia while studying physics. 

Kathy: I feel like that could be. 

[00:31:00] like 

Like there should be like a good novel about that.

Anna: I would love that. And then I remember my dad used to assemble those airplane models and we would have them hanging in our house. And I was too small at that point to help with anything, but I remember looking at them and so I think that's where my, like passion started.

Kathy: That's awesome. Plus, physics really is like one of my favorite things. Do you still talk to any of your friends that are in Germany?

Anna: Yeah, I definitely do, and I try to, so I speak Russian, German, and obviously English. Try to maintain all of the three languages as much as I can. So, through reading or podcasts or talking to my friends. So, trying to talk to my friends in Germany every now and then, whether that's through like voice notes, that helps me the most to maintain my speaking.

So definitely it's hard when you are kind of separated by

Kathy: Planet.

Anna: By the planet. [00:32:00] Yeah. But yeah. And then of course after, after high school, everyone kind of went their own ways, right? And it's became harder to maintain those relationships. But I'm grateful for the friends that still I kind of in the vicinity that I know that I can reach out to check in with.

Kathy: So, what about Russia do you like? Do you, when you're like with your parents, do you speak Russian or how do you keep your Russian language skills up?

Anna: Yeah, so I speak Russian with my mom and when I visit her, she lives in Michigan right now. Whenever I go visiting her every few months and then I come FaceTime, also talk Russian, and then I try to stay in touch with my extended family and in Russia as well. So, my grandparents that's how I keep up the speaking part.

And then I read quite a bit in Russian and then listen to podcasts. So just having that like around me really helps maintaining it.

Kathy: [00:33:00] So I saw that you were or maybe are a gymnastics coach.

Anna: Yes.

Kathy: Tell me about that. Because so I did gymnastics a long time ago, and I was terrible. I was not good, but I did it anyway. So, tell me about like your gymnastics coaching.

I, did you do gymnastics. 

growing up too?

Anna: Yeah. I think gymnastics is honestly great for kids, like at a very young age. It's just helps to like, maintain your health and just like physically allow you to grow up like more in a healthier way. So, I started doing gymnastics when I was, I did the rhythmic gymnastics first for a year or two, and then when I was six, I switched to artistic gymnastics, which is like floor, beam, bars, vault.

And so, I did that for about 10 years. And then, so I was in Germany. I was a gymnastics coach at my local club. So, with another coach we would. Lead a group, like a group of kids. I want to say they [00:34:00] were like five to seven. Coach them prepare them for like statewide competitions.

Unfortunately, I don't ever since move to the US I haven't been engaged at all. but it was a very fun time because at that point I was actively still doing gymnastics, doing competitions, but also coaching and coaching kids. It's just so much fun.

Kathy: So, is that something that you quit, like when you came to the US because you came to the US or was it something like some other reason?

Anna: Yeah. So, I think the main reason thinking back was I came to the US there was a lot of catching up to do at school because I was obviously coming from a German education system to a US education system, you had to have a certain number of credits to be able to graduate right from a high school here in the United States.

And I was missing a few credits, like some classes didn't account for. So, I just had a huge workload and just the [00:35:00] priorities were somewhere else, and it didn't make sense for me to continue.

Kathy: So, is that hard? I'm, I'm sure that it's hard, like moving from another country and with all the language barriers. Honestly like school is hard enough, like in your own language. So, trying to learn a language on top of it and trying to understand the content in a different language and then have things that you love.

That you don't get to do anymore. Like how challenging was that?

Anna: So, I tried to do it for a month or two, like when moving here. But then quickly realized that it's just not it's not working out. And I'm, I was also at an age where I was 16 and I figured, okay, I'm, I won't be getting, let's say like a scholarship or something to attend college through gymnastics, just because I cannot focus on it as much at this time.

I have other priorities. I need to learn the language; I need to catch up on my credits. Because when coming here in my junior year, I didn't even have a GPA, so it [00:36:00] was like, it was zero.

Kathy: it's completely different, right? It's a completely different school system, so nothing would translate over, I'm guessing. 

Anna: Exactly. Yeah. So, I would, I had I had credits that I took, let's say biology, right?

But then it was, there was no, no grade associated with it. Essentially, I did have to give it up and it was it was frustrating of course to realize that that's something that like brought me joy most of most of my life. And then that's something I need to give up now. I think that's, that was just like part of becoming more mature and becoming like a young adult to realize what your priorities should be now, 

Kathy: okay, so I feel like, so I've got three kids. I've got a 17-year-old, a 20, 0, 21-year-old today. It's her birthday today. And 

Anna: Wow. Happy birthday.

Kathy: old. Yes, a very exciting day. 21. Big deal. At least in the US and. I feel like my kids would be pissed at me if they had to give something up. Were you pissed at your parents [00:37:00]

 Moved me to this country and you took this thing away from me.

Like I feel like that's what my kids would be.

Anna: I, I was, yeah, to be honest I was frustrated. 

yeah, I think like obviously in, in hindsight now, I realize this was definitely for the best for us, for our family. But in that moment, yes, I was I felt that so many things that are being taken away from me and I was sad for a while, of course having to give up my friend’s gymnastics, my hobbies, and having to redshift my focus to something else.

But thinking back, I wouldn't want it to go any other way because that just made me into the person I'm today.

Kathy: Yeah, I thousand percent agree with that. Like I think every challenge that I have gone through, I'm trying to think if there's any that I, that this doesn't apply to. I'll just go with most of the challenges and things that like appear to be like really bad and really hard and generally when I look back on them, like when you get past them, it. It does make life better, but it [00:38:00] sucks to go through it.

Anna: Exactly right. Like I, I totally agree. Once you're going through it it's tough to maintain that positive outlook. But there is a phrase and there's a book that I really like. It's called A Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel.

Kathy: My husband has that on his nightstand. My husband doesn't read like anything and he, somebody gave it to him for his birthday and he is reading it.

Anna: No Way.

Kathy: Yeah 

Anna: I hope he likes it. It's not of me. 

Kathy: book. I've read it. I love that book.

Anna: Yeah. And it's just it really emphasizes on the fact that like anything that happens to us in life, it's about how we how we choose to react to it, right? It's about our response to it. It's not necessarily about what is happening, but we can choose how we respond to a certain situation, and we can choose either being negative about it or positive and try to make the most of it.

Kathy: Yeah, it's a really good book with a great message. And yeah, thousand percent. do you have siblings? [00:39:00]

Anna: No, only child, unfortunately.

Kathy: So, you didn't have anyone to go through this experience with. You were just like, literally like on your own.

Anna: Yeah.

Kathy: Yeah. 

how did you find coming to the US and starting high school, as I'm assuming a junior, how did you find that?

Were people welcoming? Was that challenging? What was that experience like for you?

Anna: So unfortunately, and I, and again, I can't, I don't, I've only seen one state, right? So, I don't really know. Only one community. So, I don't know if that's if it would be everywhere like that. But coming to my high school it was a large high school I want to say 1500 kids maybe. But for me, it seemed large.

And everyone had their groups everyone would have their own like lunch table. And I remember lunch with something I'd dreaded the most because I just. I didn't know who to [00:40:00] sit with, who to be friends with. And people were very enclosed in their social circles, and they wouldn't really let anyone in.

I became friends with some amazing exchange students though, and we are still friends up to this day. Because exchange students went through a very similar scenario. They are being thrown into a foreign country for a whole year. They have the whole year to make the most of it, to learn as much as they can to make as many experiences as possible.

I think I'm just so grateful that I got to connect with them because if I wouldn't have had those friends at that time, it would've been really tough and really lonely, I think.

Kathy: Did you eventually make any friends in high school that like you keep in contact with that weren't exchange students? Did it take a while or did it just not happen because you had two years and that was it, and then you were off to university and college? I.

Anna: I think it took about a year because so my whole junior year I was mostly [00:41:00] around exchange students and then I was also learning English at that time, so it wasn't, it was hard for me in general to just approach someone and try to become friends. But then in my senior year it got so much better.

I think I was more open to making connections. And I was on the track and field team, so I was friends of the people on the team. We got to hang out after school. Was also part of the cheer team. So, I think it just took time. Eventually I just needed to be braver. And I guess more confident in my speaking abilities.

Like I, cut I always had the fear that people wouldn't understand me. And so yeah, eventually we got there.

Kathy: I'm curious, and I don't know if you would know this, like from your experience or not, but so like in Minnesota, I always say have said I don’t know if you've heard the term Minnesota nice. But like I always felt that it's like this kind of like false niceness. There's not that many people that, with the [00:42:00] exception of the Minneapolis, St. Paul area, there's not a whole lot of people that like, immigrate to Minnesota could, I don’t know if you can see out my window. Could be the fact that we have snow and we're supposed to have a blizzard tomorrow and it's April,

Anna: And this April right.

Kathy: come to Minnesota, don't blame them. I found, so I was born in Colorado, but I lived in, I've lived in Minnesota since I was seven, but in different parts of the state. And so, like when I graduated from college and started my first job, I moved across the state. I didn't know anybody. Did know anybody at my company And 

I found it really hard to make friends because I feel like people have had their friends since like preschool. 

Like how do you get into a community when people have been friends with each other since they were like two? And you're an outsider and there's nothing that you can do to change that because no, I didn't go to that preschool.

I haven't been friends with you since I was two. It's really hard. Is that kind of similar to what you experience that just people just have been friends for so [00:43:00] long that they have their friends, they're comfortable, they don't really want anyone new. Like I, I find it really hard.

I still do. 

I still, I'm moved about 15 years ago to where I live now, and I don't work where I live, and I still don't have very many friends. But like where I live

I just, I think there are places. And Michigan feels in my mind a lot like Minnesota. I'm just curious if that's what you experienced.

Anna: yeah. So, I definitely sympathize so, so much with you be like coming to the high school. I had a very similar experience. I felt the kids have been friends with each other since kindergarten, right? I went to the same preschool, elementary, middle school. And if it's always this community where it's just like really hard to get into, and I was frustrated because I didn't understand why people weren't welcoming.

Like I, [00:44:00] it just didn't make a lot of sense to me. Because maybe because of the way I was raised, the way I grew up. I don't know. I was always emphasized on just like welcoming others, taking care of each other and just not having felt that when I first came to the new country, to the new high school, especially from the kids was a bit, was definitely challenging.

Might have had something to do with the age as well because, when you're 15, 16, you go through that young adult phase.

Kathy: Oh, it's terrible for everybody. Like that so I feel like what you probably went through is just like completely, like exponentially harder because middle school and high school is so hard anyway, and people are not nice. I. especially girls, like they're not really nice to each other.

Anna: And then now I'm looking like at all the amazing, like women like, like you, and then just so many like organizations that are empowering, like women in [00:45:00] STEM and how supportive everyone is of each other, like doing like empowering other women to do their thing. And I thinking back I wish girls would've been that nice like back in high school.

But again, so I think a lot of that was attributed not to people necessarily trying to be mean. Just maybe it was that age that they were going through and just the community that they were so used to. And they maybe didn't see a sense of making friends with someone who, you know who will, we will all graduate from high school anyways.

We'll go on our own path. So, whatever the reason was, that's fine.

Kathy: I guess the upside is that it gets better, right? Like I don't like, honestly. 

And I think high school is better than middle school, but it's just hard. Like it is just, it's a really hard age. And then add in being different, right? Because the whole thing, like 

when you're in middle school and high school, at least in the us and I can't speak to Germany or Russia, but you [00:46:00] don't want to stand out, right?

That's like the worst thing is to stand out and be different. 

Anna: And then everyone thinks you're just such a weirdo and

Kathy: exactly. 

Anna: ah.

Kathy: Exactly. And then it's like you get out, eventually, and like it's so good to stand out and that's what people like. But when you're in high school, in middle school, it's just so hard and so awful. It's awful. So, I'm sorry that it was not a better experience for you starting out. I'm glad that it's gotten better and I'm glad that, have you found have you found a community of like friends and stuff in Savannah and in the place that you work now and stuff like, how is, how has that been? Has that been like more welcoming? Is the South better?

Anna: for sure. And even I have to say, like I'm going through college. I had an amazing friend group and which I am just so grateful for. And then by moving to this house it’s definitely different from the Midwest and people are, very friendly. People are welcoming [00:47:00] and I've met incredible colleagues and friends here, they call my second family which like our whole team at work is very tight knit together.

So, I couldn't have asked for a better team. And it just shows where proofs to me again, that whatever maybe happened in the past just built me upwards of what I have right now. And so, I'm grateful for whatever friendships and, or like relationships I had previously, if, even if they, those didn't work out.

Kathy: Yeah, I, that whole saying or song, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I 

don't know if that's like a good thing or not. 

Anna: Jay?

Kathy: Like

Anna: Jay.

Kathy: sometimes it feels that way, sometimes it doesn't. I don't know. I got like mixed thoughts on that, but that's just what came to my mind when you just said that. 

Okay. So, you also talked about travel and photography being like two of your hobbies, which are actually like two things that I love to do too. What's your favorite place that you have traveled to and where? What's on your bucket list for traveling? [00:48:00]

Anna: Oh, my goodness. That's such a hard question. There's so many, right? And so, I think it's really hard for me to pick a favorite because I think every place that I went to is just very unique and beautiful in its own way. There's something beautiful that I take away from every place that I went to that I recently went to Lisbon in Portugal, which was. such a fun, vibrant city. Great locals, very safe great food right on the water. So, I'm looking forward to going again actually at some point. It's definitely something I want to do. One place in my bucket list though is going to Tanzania. And um, always wanted to see that place or that part of the world.

I've never been to Africa as a continent and really wanted to go on the safari. See the beautiful animals even just from afar. [00:49:00] So yeah, that's definitely something I would love to do one day.

Kathy: Yeah, you don't definitely you definitely don't want to see them too. Close up animals.

Anna: Got to be careful with that.

Kathy: what kind of photography do you do, or do you like to do?

Anna: So, I I'm just a hobby photographer. I do film photography. 

Kathy: Oh, you do? 

Anna: yeah, I basically who, whoever listens to this and doesn't know much about film photography, it's basically a camera that makes pictures and the older style. Like you take pictures on a film and then you take that film out and then you either bring it in or send it in for processing. So, you don't get to see the pictures actually when you are taking them in real time. And I think for me, that's the beauty of it, that you get that surprise factor once the pictures come back. So yeah, that's what I love to do on the side.

Kathy: How hard is it to find film still.

Anna: So, I just usually I order mine online. I [00:50:00] haven't been able to find the ones that I need for my camera and the store here. And then for actually processing the film I also mail mine in for, to a place that process it. So, they process it and then they scan it in, send me a Dropbox link. So, it's this whole thing,

Kathy: Have you ever thought of having a dark room and like doing your own processing? Has that ever crossed your mind?

Anna: I would love to eventually, yeah, I think that would be really fun and being able to play with because it also very often it also depends on the person that processes your film and or the technique that they're doing. I would love to experiment with that a little bit.

Kathy: Yeah, it seems really cool. I've never done it. I'm pretty old, so I had a film cam camera for most of my life, but I never did like the processing and stuff. But I think it, it seems really interesting, like I think that would be an interesting thing to learn how to do.

Anna: for sure. Yeah.

Kathy: I'm going to back up [00:51:00] for a second. So, you are also working on a master's degree, right?

Anna: That's correct. Yeah.

Kathy: How is that going while you're working? Is that challenging? To do that while you're still working.

Anna: I'm doing a master’s in-flight test engineering at the National Test Pilot School. And thankfully the program works out in a way that I can do it part-time while not taking too much time away from work. I am very grateful again to my employer who allows me to make that happen.

But it is challenging at times when I need to focus solely on the class because I basically, I get one shot at it and then I have one exam at the end of every class and I need to do good or I would need to retake it eventually at some point, and there's just no time. But it's been.

Kathy: So, if you have a bad day, you're hosed for that whole class.

Anna: So, the classes are a weeklong and it's a very fast paced, compressed [00:52:00] environment. So, we have class from eight to six or at eight to five, depending on the day. And then afterwards you either do like homework or some project, and then at the end of that week you take a final exam.

And then that's how the program works for me, only doing the academic’s portion.

because at test pilot school students usually have the academics followed by flying. But then since I'm doing, flying on a job and then the way my setup works, I only come for the academic’s part. I've been really feeling the benefit of it. I feel so much smarter on my job actually. so that's been really rewarding I think to see and seeing that it's really worth it.

Kathy: What do you want to do like in your career? Do you have goals and like long-term plans?

Anna: Nothing long term as of right now. I only, right now I want to focus on [00:53:00] becoming a great expert in my field. Become the, just for myself, for my own I guess metric. Be a good fighter engineer be a good member of my team. Contribute as much as I can. Learn as much as I can. That's for the next two or three years for sure.

So, I just want to. Taken all the challenges and all the opportunities and allow myself to grow in the job as much as I, as much as possible, and obviously contribute as much as possible. And then just see where it takes me. Sometimes doors open that I could have never imagined and 

Kathy: agree with that one.

Anna: I never know where my master's program's going to take me.

Caz that one also came out of nowhere. So yeah, we'll see where life takes me.

Kathy: Do you fly? Do you pilot anything or not? Or is that something you want to do or don't want to do?

Anna: I intend to for sure once I once I finished my master's degree [00:54:00] I would love to do helicopter.

For some reason, that calls me some of my colleagues call me crazy for that. But I think it's it would be really fun. I would love to do both. Fixed wings and airplane and helicopter.


Kathy: You have a lot of

Anna: of,

Kathy: left and things to

Anna: hopefully yes,

Kathy: and. Try and seems very exciting.

Anna: if anyone never tries, then they'll never know, right? There's no harm in trying. 

Kathy: Exactly. Okay, so I always end with, what advice would you give to a girl or young woman thinking about going into stem?

Anna: I would say be curious be open-minded. Be passionate about what you do. Be humble. And then be observant and like a sponge. Try to learn from any opportunity that comes your way because that will help you build your skillset, your confidence and then [00:55:00] don't let anyone tell you or discourage you from your dreams because anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

Kathy: Love that advice. So good. And honestly, I love your quote. If one never tries, one, never knows. That's a great quote.

Anna: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Kathy: I am so glad that I got to talk with you more on the podcast and thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story. I really appreciate it, and I just, I love the work that you do. It sounds so exciting and fun, and I appreciate you sharing your story.

Anna: Thank you, first of all, so much for having me. You, I have such a big smile on my face right now and so grateful that I got to share my story and thank you for being such an amazing host and for all the great questions.

I hope you enjoy this episode of ordinarily extraordinary and Anna's story. You can find a list of definitions, acronyms, and resources in the episode notes. And if you could do something else, if you could support the podcast [00:56:00] by doing a couple things, one, if you could rate it, write a review, that's really, really important to help. Other people find my podcast and bring these women's stories to more listeners. And as I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, if you can consider supporting the podcast through either Patreon or going out to my website, there's a couple of other ways you can support it. There. And you can find me Kathy Nelson at www.Ordinarily-extraordinary.com. Or you can email me at ordinarilyextraordinarypod@gmail.com. Thanks. And please join me for future episodes.