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Boss Ladies of CLE: NASA Glenn Director Marla Perez-Davis

Marla Perez-Davis took the reins at NASA Glenn Research Center in January 2020.

OHIO, USA — "A boss lady is somebody who boldly chooses her own direction. She gets stuff done, she often strays from the conventional path and blazes her own trail. She often works towards a higher purpose outside of her own personal success." - Maggie Sullivan, author of "Boss Ladies of CLE" 

Marla Perez-Davis took the reins at NASA Glenn Research Center in January 2020. It was a great time for space - but on earth, the pandemic was just taking hold.

"It has been 17 months of learning," she said. "We have learned quite a bit about the technology, [but also] about putting people first. I think that's critical."

With two-thirds of her 3000 employees still remote, NASA Glenn is still meeting key milestones on the Artemis and Gateway projects.

"We're going to be landing astronauts on the moon. When we talk about rovers on Mars, when we talking about changing the future of flight and aeronautics aviation, Cleveland has a lot to do with that."

And here in Cleveland, the team at NASA Glenn is working on more than just scientific advancements.

"We are going to have the first woman stepping on the moon and the first person of color with the Artemis program," Perez-Davis said. "The importance of diversity and inclusion is huge because that's where we get our creativity and our innovation."

Perez-Davis says, those advancements are particularly meaningful to her.

Credit: NASA Glenn Research Center
Marla Perez-Davis

"You know, as a woman, as a Latina person with an accent, I want all those, especially little kids, anyone that is watching right now to know that they can achieve...they are our future, that next generation. And we need to get them inspired and motivated."

Credit: NASA Glenn Research Center

Perez-Davis joined NASA in 1983, after being recruited out of her chemical engineering program at the University of Puerto Rico - a long way from Cleveland.

"When I came here, there was a number of challenges," she recalled. "Obviously the language, the culture, my whole family was in Puerto Rico, my friends. So it was really like starting from zero."

Credit: Marla Perez-Davis

But Marla leaned into her passions, encouraged by her proud mom.

"She was a single mama. And she always said, you have to have an education because I cannot leave anything else, but an education. So she was always setting goals for us," she said. "She made a lot of sacrifices for us to have that education. That doesn’t go unnoticed."

Despite the early challenges of adjusting to her adopted hometown, Perez-Davis has said there's a lot she has learned to love about Northeast Ohio over the four decades she has spent here. 

"Cleveland is a beautiful city, it has been very kind to me," she said. "It's a great place to raise kids. You have the beautiful Metroparks that I love. And there's so much to explore."

And here in Cleveland, she grew not only her career, but also her family.

"My two boys, I call them my boys...but they're grown up. They're my support. And my family, my friends, and my team, my NASA team, they are my support."

Credit: Marla Perez-Davis

And it's clear she is proud not only of her family and chosen circle, but also the trailblazing work being done right here in Northeast Ohio.

"NASA has a beautiful mission and I'm very proud of what we do."

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