RoundupReads The People of Johnson: Meet Regina Senegal, Acting Deputy Chief of the Quality and Flight Equipment Division

The People of Johnson: Meet Regina Senegal, Acting Deputy Chief of the Quality and Flight Equipment Division

by Linda Grimm | 2023-11-15

Safety and quality management is integral to every program at NASA's Johnson Space Center and across the entire agency. That gives team members like Regina Senegal, acting deputy chief of the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate's (SMA) Quality and Flight Equipment Division, a unique opportunity to collaborate with diverse organizations and personnel.

An African American woman with short hair and wearing a black and white patterned shirt stands in front of an image of Earth from space.
Regina Senegal. Image courtesy of Regina Senegal.

"I'm responsible for managing safety and quality teams for about 13 customers," Senegal said, noting that these customers include Gateway, Orion, Human Landing System, EHP (Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program), and VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover). Senegal's teams work at several levels to implement agency, program, and center SMA requirements, in addition to assisting with monitoring Johnson’s Quality Management System to identify concerns for SMA leadership. Some teams operate at the program level, helping to write program requirements, establishing assurance programs, and identifying and characterizing risk. Other teams work on a developmental level and focus on ensuring that a piece of hardware, software, and other components meet requirements and are safe. One team is dedicated to extravehicular activity, or EVA,  operations, making sure that both crew members and equipment are prepared for safe and successful spacewalks. Senegal's division is also responsible for calibration, safety, and quality for government-furnished equipment at Johnson, procurement quality, and the Receiving, Inspection and Test Facility.

"This division is probably the most diverse at Johnson because we do a multitude of things and have a multitude of disciplines," Senegal said. "That's why I enjoy it."

Senegal was introduced to quality management as a manufacturing engineer for General Motors, where she worked for seven years before becoming a NASA contractor. She said it was always her goal to work at NASA, but there were no opportunities available at Johnson when she graduated from Prairie View A&M University with a degree in electrical and electronics engineering. "I just kept applying to anything that had to do with NASA, and then a subcontractor to SAIC hired me," she said.

Senegal has worked at Johnson for 26 years and has been a civil servant since 2004. She spent the majority of that time working as a quality engineer but completed several rotations in other areas. "I think everybody should do rotations outside their organization," she said. "As I did those rotations, there were processes and procedures that SMA had in place that I got to experience firsthand. That helped me understand where some of the engineering teams had concerns about work getting slowed down. I was able to bring that perspective back to help improve or streamline some of our processes."

A male astronaut wearing glasses and a blue flight suit sticks a silver pin on the blue sweater of an African American woman.
NASA astronaut Andrew Thomas presents Regina Senegal with a Silver Snoopy Award in 2011. Credit: NASA/Lauren Harnett

Senegal has been involved in the development and implementation of space and life science experiments, the Human Research Facility (HRF), and crew exercise hardware, to name a few projects. She said her most memorable experience was working to transition crew health equipment from the Space Shuttle Program to the International Space Station. Senegal explained that while the hardware worked well on shuttle missions, it had to be redesigned to support longer missions and larger crews on station. She was not responsible for the redesign, but she had to ensure the equipment worked and was safe. "I really enjoyed that because it was a challenge, and you had all of these great ideas coming together from engineering, doctors, the crew," she said. "We became a strong, close team. Everyone was there trying to achieve the same goal."

The openness to new ideas and diversity of thought is one aspect of Johnson’s culture that Senegal admires. "I love that the Center Director’s Office is pushing us to move into a new era, to come up with new ways of doing things and understand the risk associated with that, even if they can't implement everything," she said. "I find that really exciting, and I really look forward to coming out of that with some synergies and ways of doing things more efficiently."

A colleague who nominated Senegal for recognition similarly applauded her efforts to make the division a forward-leaning team. "Regina demands her team always thinks of continuous improvement efforts and has perfected a leadership method of honest feedback, technical guidance, and mentorship to everyone she works with," they said. "Regina strives to prove to others how valuable the team's efforts are from the earliest phase of a program all the way through its sunsetting."

Senegal firmly believes in the value of learning from others' experiences and trying to understand different perspectives. She says this can help in any position but is particularly important for leaders. "As a leader, you have to have personal connections with your team. You need to know their strengths, their capabilities, and understand what's going on outside of work, because it helps you put them in the right situations and set them up for success," she said. "When they know you care about them, and you are interested in them – even the little things like bringing in donuts – it makes it easier for them to come to work." 

A woman sits behind a white podium with a large patch showing planets, an eagle, and an astronaut helmet.
Regina Senegal poses for a picture at an Safety and Mission Assurance podium. Image courtesy of Regina Senegal.

Senegal observed that the recent shift of SMA staff to one building, versus situating them with the programs they support, created some challenges for maintaining those connections. She and her teams are finding different ways of building and sustaining relationships with program staff. From her perspective, ensuring that teams are not siloed, and that civil servants' roles are clearly defined in an era of increased spaceflight commercialization are some of the key challenges ahead of the agency.

Senegal emphasized the importance of sharing SMA lessons learned with the Artemis Generation, as well. "They need to know the safety and quality policies, but they also need to understand why we have them in place," she said. "If you teach them the history behind it, they're less likely to repeat it, and it helps them understand how and when to accept risk."

Senegal advises future explorers to: "Ask people for their opinions. Be honest if you don't know something and say you want to learn more. Never be afraid to speak up."