NASA Engineer Recognized for Innovative Thinking

Freddie Douglas III

May 17, 2005HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. – Freddie Douglas III’s job is to get people to think differently. And he’s doing it so well, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took notice.As chief of the Systems Integration Office at NASA’s Stennis Space Center (SSC) in South Mississippi, Freddie Douglas integrates business into the engineering world.

Douglas, 44 and a resident of Slidell, La., has a classical mechanical engineering background, but in his position at SSC, he says, “You have to step back, see things a little differently, turn elements on their sides, see what they have in common – to make better decisions, get more effective performance, run more efficiently.”

In recognition of his efforts, Douglas, a graduate of of MIT’s System Design and Management Program with the Engineering Systems Division, was featured in the March/April 2005 issue of NSBE Magazine, a publication of the National Society of Black Engineers. In its article titled “At MIT, Engineers Gain from Interdisciplinary Approach,” the magazine singled out Douglas as a “prime example” of engineers who meet a growing need for people who can tackle problems with new ways of thinking. The magazine said increasingly complex systems such as energy, health care and transportation call for engineers whose backgrounds go beyond traditional technical skills to include managerial skills that let them see the big picture.

Douglas was also highlighted in an MIT Engineering Systems Division exhibit at the NSBE’s national convention in Boston in March.

Douglas described his job in NASA’s Systems Integration as pulling things “out of their stovepipes and seeing them as a collective.” Douglas believes SSC can integrate its functions to become a leaner, more efficient organization to help NASA fulfill the nation’s Vision for Space Exploration: to go back to the Moon, and eventually to Mars and beyond.

“There has to be a strong marriage between product development, the customer and the market,” he said. For instance, SSC’s two main lines of business – rocket engine testing and applied science applications – have much in common: complex computing needs and capabilities, and customers who rely on their resources to make decisions. If SSC’s Propulsion Test Directorate and Applied Sciences Directorate could find ways to pool those overlapping resources, it could save a lot of time, effort and money.

It’s a tall order, but Douglas is seeing small gains in merging smaller systems at SSC.

“Getting people to think differently is a big step,” he said. “The real return won’t manifest itself for a while. If you institute the changes well, nobody will ever know it happened.”

Douglas is a graduate of MIT’s Engineering Systems Division’s System Design and Management program. He holds a science master’s degree in mechanical engineering and management, granted jointly by MIT’s Sloan School of Management and School of Engineering. He also holds a master of science degree in engineering from the University of Alabama-Huntsville and a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, La.

Douglas called his journey from the smaller details of mechanical engineering to the bigger picture of systems integration “a very fun and challenging experience. If you’re not having fun, something’s wrong.”

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Freddie Douglas III