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Michelle Martín

Turning back the clock, we travel in time to the year 1973.  Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California offered a Cooperative Education course for students who were employed while going to school.  The purpose of such programs is to give students college credit for work experience.  Below are the answers to a questionnaire from a then 22 year-old Michelle Mock.

Where do you work?

I am presently working for the Philco-Ford Corporation at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory [Pasadena, California] as Secretary for the Mission Support Group.  The personnel in my group are directly involved in space missions such as MVM-73 [Mariner Venus Mercury 1973], Viking, Pioneer, Helios, etc.  I am working with Engineers, Programmers and other personnel related with computers, data processing and space flights.

How do you feel about your job?

I enjoy my job.  It is a type of job I would recommend to a friend because there are so many opportunities to learn new things.  I have learned to use the keypunch machine and am presently enrolled in a computer programming class here at work.  The people I work with are always prepared and willing to answer questions and teach what they know about computers, programming and mission operations.  The clerical workload is usually light.  The job does have its drawbacks however. I find the job rather lacking in challenge.  The duties required are, in my opinion, of little responsibility.  For this reason, I am constantly trying to learn new ideas which could possibly get me into a job that would have more responsibility and challenge.

Why are you working at this job?

I am working at this job primarily to make a living.  My future goal, however, is to become a bilingual nursery school teacher (English/Spanish).  I do not plan to make secretarial work my career.

What influence, if any, has this job had on your choice of college courses?

The only class I chose to take this semester because of my job was English 132 [Reading Skills].  It has definitely helped to improve my reading habits and it has made working and studying a little easier.

Was there adequate orientation for your job?  Has there been too little, sufficient or too much supervision?

Yes, I would say that I had adequate orientation for my job.  I had experience in this field when I came to work here, so the change was not too difficult.  My supervisor [Brossy (Del) Deluca] has been a great help to me on this job.  Whenever I run into problems with the job he has been very ready to help me solve them.  I really appreciate his compliments when I do a job well, but I believe I probably could use a little criticism when I do not do so well.  I think the supervision I have on the job is sufficient.  I am able to use my imagination and initiative.

In what way has this job been beneficial to you?

The job in itself has not been very beneficial to me; however, my work surroundings have been extremely beneficial.  As I said before, I have been learning many things on the job.  I am becoming more and more involved with computers and programming and although I do not, at present, plan to make this field my career, the information I am receiving is interesting and it may someday be of use to me.

Please comment on the following statement: "Difficulties on the job arise more often from lack of human understanding than from lack of knowledge or skills."

It is unfortunate, but I have to agree.  This is very true for me on my job.  My problems are usually caused by the lack of concern for employees shown by higher management.  This is the only place I have worked and felt like nothing more than a number.  This is not the fault of my supervisor.  I think he shows a fine understanding and concern for the employees in his group.  The higher management however does not seem to care about the employees at all.  I feel that some managers ought to try to imagine themselves in the position of some of their employees.  Some of the engineers often show a slight lack of consideration when they bring a pile of typing at the last minute and expect the secretary to finish it in record time, forgetting that they are not the only ones who have typing to be done.

What college courses have been helpful to you in your job?

Of the courses that I have taken at P.C.C., I would highly recommend English 132 to everyone.  It has been one of the most beneficial courses I have ever taken.  It has definitely improved my reading habits making me more at ease when I have a great deal of required reading.  I especially enjoyed using the Control Reader.  It made me realize that I could really read about twice as fast as I normally do and that I still have good comprehension of what I have read.  The course would be very helpful to anyone that has to read a heavy load in a short period of time.  I plan to take the course again sometime in the future because I believe that repetition can be very helpful.  The other courses I have taken at P.C.C. are more related to Early Childhood Education and therefore did not help me on my job.

What are your personal reactions to the Cooperative Education Program?

I think that the Cooperative Education Program is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who works and would also like to further his or her education.  I believe that if the program required a little more work on the part of the student, it could take the place of some of the required subjects that one must take to graduate.  I believe that you can never learn as much from books as you can "out in the world".  I also think that some of the course requirements should be dropped if the student has already taken the course in High School.  I think the counselors at the college should try to recommend courses to the students instead of telling them that they must take some courses that are "required".  I must admit that of the courses that I must take to get an A.A. degree, there are only one or two that I am really not too interested in taking.  I know that the whole educational system is undergoing many changes.  I believe that it has become far more meaningful in recent years.  I think that the high school graduates should be advised, both by teachers and parents, to "go out into the world" and get a job before they go on to college full time.  I don't think that college is something that should be expected of every high school graduate unless they feel that they want to continue in school.  I graduated from high school in 1969.  I did not return to school until the summer of 1972 except for some courses (i.e., typing shorthand and French) that I took because I found them necessary to get a better job.  During that time, I worked in many different places until I finally decided that I wanted to go back to school to get a degree in early childhood education.  My plans for the future are to open a bilingual English/Spanish Nursery School [pre-school] and to raise children of my own.

Would you enroll in this program again?

I have already enrolled in the Cooperative Education Program for the Spring Semester.  I have recommended this program to friends because I think that if they are working they should try to get the extra units which would be very helpful to some.  I also think that schooling and working should be more closely tied together.  I believe that this program is the best way of getting to know the students' points of view on various subjects and how they think this program could be improved to make the experience a better one.  I only wish that we could get together more often as a group so that the students and their teacher/supervisors could talk over the problems of work and school.  It seems to me that the counselors at the college do not have sufficient time to talk to the individual students and I think that more things would be improved if students and the co-op teachers could talk things over.  It would also allow the students to share the experiences of one another and it would possibly open their eyes to jobs they had never thought of, courses they might like to take but were afraid to try and solutions to problems that they may encounter on the job.

How would you evaluate your employer?

Philco-Ford is a good company to work for.  The benefits are superb.  We have a good basic insurance plan, an accident insurance plan, courtesy discount, educational assistance, stock plan, and 21 days sick leave and two weeks vacation each year.  The salary I am making here is approximately what I would expect anywhere else for this type of job.  However, the chances for advancement are very low and merit increases are not given more than once a year (we do not receive a cost of living increase).

My main complaint about this company is that is very hard to identify with.  The company shows very little concern for its employees and this often causes a morale problem.  If I were planning on making secretarial work my career, I would probably be looking around for a job elsewhere, but for the time being, and since the benefits are so good, I am happy to stay here.

Back in the present, thirty years later, Michelle adds:

I found this yellowed term paper in a box of photographs and other things from many years ago.  I remember writing it but am actually surprised at how much it still reflects my thinking.  I believe that seemingly inconsequential things shape our future and many, many people who we come in contact with through the years, impact our lives in very significant ways.  I would like to thank some of the people from 30 years ago who contributed to who I became.

Del Deluca was my supervisor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 1973 to 1978.  He instilled confidence in me and always gave me opportunities to grow and learn.  He was incredibly patient with me as I always had a tendency to "rock the boat".  He had faith in my abilities and it was because of him that I was able to progress out of the secretarial job and into computer programming, eventually being hired by Xerox Corporation as a Member of the Programming Staff five years after this paper was written.  Who would have thought?!  I understand he has passed on, but I want to say: "Thank you, Del.  I owe you!"

I lost contact with many of the people who answered my constant questions in my quest for knowledge or who taught the courses I was able to take at JPL.  Some have probably passed on and others have retired.  Some may actually find this interview, and I'd like to thank them and let them know that they didn't waste their time.  I wish I could name them all, but from way back in 1973, a few stand out.  Henry (Hank) Cox taught a course at JPL in Report and Letter Writing.  I have been cranking out words since!  Alex Reill taught several programming classes and, along with the many other programmers in the group, inspired me to become a programmer.  James E. (Jim) Dewar and Gerald L. (Jerry) Mock wrote some of the best software code I have ever seen.  Imagine writing a program and keeping it under 16K!  Reading their code to generate software documentation was the way I really learned to program.  James (Jim) McClure gave me the honorary title of JTOP Comm Chief, and always took the time to answer questions and give advice.  There were many, many people who contributed to my professional development through the years, so many it is impossible to name them all.

Turning time back even further, I would like to share the words of one supervisor whose name I cannot remember, for a piece of advice I have always remembered and followed.  At the Manned Spaceflight Network (MSFN/Apollo) tracking station in Madrid Spain in the summer of 1969, I was working in a temporary secretarial summer job, fresh out of high school.  My supervisor indirectly taught me how to "multi-task".  He said to "Always look busy.  Even if you are going to get a cup of coffee or use the restroom, carry something with you so it looks like you are working."  This was possibly the best piece of advice I ever received.  I learned that it isn't just about "looking busy", if you are always making a conscious effort to "look busy", you are quite likely working more efficiently and you naturally start multitasking.  When you are headed to the coffee pot to get a cup of coffee and you stop to see what you could carry with you, you might pick up the report that needed to be delivered down the hall.  After awhile, it becomes habit.  You save yourself steps by making the effort to "look busy" on your way to the restroom.

Michelle's Biography
Her Interview (at present)

- 13 December 1973
- 7 August 2003


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Last Updated:
7 August 2003

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