At the top of her profession
Marla E. Pérez-Davis completed her doctorate degree in chemical engineering at Case Western Reserve University in 1991. At the time, she was working full time at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s John H. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, with a toddler son at home. More than one time she considered not finishing the degree program.
Balancing motherhood, family, work and school is not necessarily an easy task but can be done, Pérez-Davis added, with the help of a support system. “From the people that believed in you, to those that carried you or simply offered a hand to hold during trying times, my support was my husband at the time, friends, coworkers, mentors and my advisor at Case, Dr. Donald Feke,” she said.
Pérez-Davis is a native of Puerto Rico and earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico and master’s degree from the University of Toledo in addition to her Ph.D. at Case. Her career with NASA spans 33 years. Immediately prior to being promoted to her current position in June 2016, Pérez-Davis served as the deputy director of Glenn’s research and engineering directorate, a post she held since 2014.
Other key leadership positions Pérez-Davis held at Glenn include director of the Aeronautics Research Office from 2010 to 2014, where she served as the focal point for aeronautics research and provided project management, leadership and oversight in support of the agency’s aeronautics research mission. She also served as chief of the Project Liaison and Integration Office and as chief of the Electrochemistry Branch.
Pérez-Davis has received many accolades over the years: recipient of NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, 2015 Crain’s Women of Note, the Top 25 Elite Business Women, Hispanic Business Magazine and Women of Color Career Achievement, to name just a few. The Case alumna is quick to point out that her greatest achievements are because of her NASA team.
Pérez-Davis is extremely thankful for NASA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, which she considers key to mission success. The organization is recognized as a best place to work in government because of its commitment.
“From a personal perspective, I have learned to accept that at times we will encounter people that are going to judge us by our accent, our looks,” she said. “I have learned, too, that I have no control over people’s filters and perceptions. Inclusion is a choice, so choose wisely and you will be rewarded with the best solution, with creativity and innovation, and in the process, a better organization and workplace.”
Marla E. Pérez-Davis PhD '91, Deputy Director of NASA's Glenn Research Center
Image by Hilary Bovay