While his day job as a project manager for NASA might sound exciting enough, Adam Naids has also competed on American Ninja Warrior — and when he was back in the area for a few days, he stopped by his alma mater, Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (PWHS), and Colonial Middle School to talk to students about his journey.
Working for NASA
"I get to oversee the design, testing, development and certification of hardware that flies in space," explained Mr. Naids. "We make space walking tools and different pieces of equipment for the inside, like sleeping bags, trash bags, handrails and things like that."
One of his recent projects was leading the team that created a device that works on a mechanical arm to locates leaks outside the International Space Station. As the project manager, Mr. Naids is responsible for overseeing the schedule, the budget and the technical decision making. While he needs to know the engineering to help troubleshoot problems, suggest improvements to the designs and explain projects to investors, he's also a people manager.
"The technical stuff is not that hard," said Mr. Naids. "Honestly, I've found the people to be more complex — how we work with people with different strengths and weaknesses, how I present results to different people. I got fascinated with the psychology of it all, and honestly, I love that part of it."
Competing on American Ninja Warrior
As the Space Ninja, Mr. Naids had a chance to compete on American Ninja Warrior and was one of about a third of the contestants to be actually be shown on television, even if it was only for a few seconds. He's continuing training and plans on trying again next season.
"My favorite part would be the American Ninja Warrior part," said PWHS student Matthew Zack. "I watch American Ninja Warrior, so it's cool to see someone who's actually doing it,"
Mr. Naid approached the competition the same way an engineer would approach most problems.
"I used a very methodical approach to being selected: here's what people did before that was successful and here are the things that I need to do. I watched a lot of videos before putting mine together," he said. "It was a matter or doing research, figuring it out, and then implementing it."
Getting a foundation at PWHS
Mr. Naids credits his time at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School with setting him on the path to his undergraduate degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, NASA and a master's degree in bioastronautics from the University of Colorado Boulder.
"The astronomy course with Mr. Young is where I fell in love with space and knew that I wanted to do that. The FIRST Robotics Club is where I realized that I like building things and engineering," said Mr. Naid. "There was the machine shop class that I took, the physics class; I loved all of that stuff, and then Mr. Young handed me a pamphlet and told me about Embry-Riddle. I don't think I'd be where I am without any of those things happening."
Several students in the audience have taken advantage of similar opportunities at PWHS and at least one has set her sights on joining Mr. Naids at NASA.
"Seeing how similar his path was to the one I intend to take was most definitely inspiring," said PWHS junior Sydney Borislow, who'll be attending a NASA internship this summer. "It helped me realize that my dream of working for NASA is an achievable one as long as I stay motivated and do everything I can to make it possible."
Would you like to talk to Colonial School District students about your career? Contact Denise Marks, Curriculum Supervisor for Career Readiness at 610-834-1670, ext. 2151.