Dr. Kanama Bivins is Acting Associate Director at NASA Langley Research Center.
NASA/David C. Bowman

Dr. Kanama Bivins currently serves as the Acting Associate Director at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Prior to this role, Kanama was NASA Langley’s Chief Financial Officer. Kanama grew up in a military family and moved often but she considers the Hampton Roads area home. Following high school graduation, Kanama joined the United States Air Force where she served as a financial manager. She holds a doctorate degree in strategic leadership from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Kanama says her untraditional path to NASA highlights the many career opportunities the agency offers.

Who or what inspired you to choose your career and why? 

I didn’t choose a career. I chose the military. I chose service. In doing so, they [the U.S. Air Force] chose a career for me. Of course, they test you and they make determinations based on what they see as to what you should do. The Air Force chose financial management for me, and I really liked it. I earned my bachelor’s degree in accounting and continued along that career path. There were times that I considered doing something more hands on or operational [in the Air Force] and there were mentors along the way who said, “No, what we do is important and let me tell you why,” and that helped a lot. It was a non-traditional way of getting to do the work that I do now.

What do you find most rewarding about working with NASA?  

I think the opportunity to do this detail [as Acting Associate Director] is very unique to NASA. This has been great because I have been in financial management the balance of my career. I appreciate the opportunity to step away and do something different while still having a tie to that financial piece because I do manage the center budget primarily now. I think you can become very familiar with what you do so I enjoy being in a role that allows me to touch so many parts of the center. It gives me a very tangible connection to the center and that has proven invaluable to me.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?  

I love spending time with my family. My daughter just turned 16. I know she’s going to go off in the world soon so I’m trying to maximize my time with her. My husband and I also love to travel. We are huge National Football League (NFL) fans and love following our team, the San Francisco 49ers. My daughter sails competitively so we travel the country following her for sailing.

Personally, I try to become involved in activities that aren’t familiar to me. I sit on the Board [of Governors] of the Virginia Opera, which is not something I was familiar with or thought that I would do. The experience has been eye opening and amazing! I am also actively involved with my church and engage with my community through the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) and the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO).

What advice would you give to someone who might be interested in pursuing a career at NASA?

Find out what it is that you like to do and the thing about NASA is there is a place for you here. Whether it’s human resources, financial management, procurement, aerosciences, space technology and exploration, or engineering: all have a place here at NASA. Once you find the career that you want to pursue, look for opportunities to connect with people who do that work. There is a lot of information that you can only get from talking to somebody that actually does that work or has that experience, so be targeted as you network and intentional about connecting with people who are doing the type of work that you are interested in pursuing. Also be prepared and do your research to understand the different paths to your desired career opportunity. No matter what it is you choose to do, there are opportunities at NASA for any career field.

How does your background and heritage contribute to your perspective and approach in your role at NASA?  

My parents are both from overseas, so I am a first-generation American. I have a diverse family background and grew up surrounded by people who looked completely different [from me] but who shared the same values. We all came from the same place. That is also how I approach NASA. We are all very different. We all have very different experiences. But we all share the same mission and we are all focused on the good of NASA. I also came from a military family which means I was surrounded by very diverse people growing up because the military is that shared value and vision. I hope it has allowed me to approach everything in a very well-rounded fashion.

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