From pioneering space initiatives to championing diversity and innovation, Shirley Holland-Hunt’s multifaceted leadership at NASA exemplifies the future of aerospace exploration. Her efforts have driven technological advancements and advocated for the inclusion of women and minorities in STEM fields. 

Holland-Hunt currently serves as the associate division chief for Houston’s Johnson Space Center Aeroscience and Flight Mechanics Division, where she drives engineering design, development, testing, and evaluation for all phases of space flight.  

She supports the identification and establishment of center partnerships and Space Act Agreements that drive the research and development of new space exploration technology. Holland-Hunt also coordinates business activities and workforce development, including planning, programming, budgeting, and execution, as well as facility management and Johnson’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility initiatives. 

Holland-Hunt was a member of the Dare | Unite | Explore team that launched the “Propel the Space Economy Coalition” initiative, which supports the sustainable growth of the global space economy.  

Official portrait of Shirley Holland-Hunt.
Credit: NASA/James Blair

As an alumna of Prairie View A&M University, a Historically Black College and University, Holland-Hunt holds a bachelor of science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. She helped develop Johnson’s first Request for Information document, showcasing her pivotal role in advancing the center’s initiatives to collect data that inform future procurement actions. 

She also spearheaded initiatives to promote women in leadership roles. She founded the networking group “The Women of ES” within the Structural Engineering Division to help women leaders seek opportunities and gain promotions. Additionally, she launched “The Women of EG” within the Aeroscience and Flight Mechanics Division, which conducts outreach to schools to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers. 

“Each division leaves its own footprint,” she said. “Sometimes you need those small entities within a culture because the issues are different, the people are different. It’s so fulfilling to be a part of these outreach activities and see the outcome.” 

Shirley Holland-Hunt leads a discussion at a STEM outreach event for Brownsville Independent School District.

Holland-Hunt emphasizes the importance of persistence and continuous learning in your career. “Every little thing that you do or contribute to is huge. You might not see the results right away, but there is an outcome.” 

She motivates students interested in pursuing space exploration careers to recognize their skills, know their worth, and work hard. “Strive to do your best daily but know that things are going to happen. Just be the best you can be.” 

One of her core beliefs is to treat others with respect and acknowledge that diversity of thought is a strength. “Different means that somebody has a different way of thinking than you do, and that is a plus.” 

Shirley Holland-Hunt at a NASA Pathways internship outreach event at Prairie View A&M University.

Holland-Hunt is also involved in a discovery program at her church, educating young girls about careers in STEM and supporting minority students pursuing graduate programs in those fields. She recalls teachers doubting her potential to become an engineer. “I don’t want another little girl to hear that she can’t be something that she wants to be,” she said. 

Her advice to women is to embrace new challenges without fear. “Learn and grow in everything you do. Don’t be afraid to move around in your career. You don’t need to have 100% of the skills to do it,” said Holland-Hunt. “Networking is also important—get to know people who can make a positive impact on your life.” 

Shirley Holland-Hunt at a Texas Independent School District STEM outreach event in Galveston.

Reflecting on her career, Holland-Hunt shares, “I started at NASA in a technical field but learned later that I have a passion for people, which was shocking because I always thought I was shy and an introvert. Now, I have a passion for seeing people grow and giving back in any way I can.” 

Holland-Hunt worked in flight software and avionics for the Space Shuttle Program, which she said was her favorite program to work on at NASA. “When the program ended, I had to figure out how to use my background at Johnson for future capabilities,” she said. “That is the great part of working at NASA; there are many opportunities that bring together a range of people and perspectives to foster innovation.” 

Holland-Hunt’s previous role managing a materials and processing group helped overcome her initial fear that her technical knowledge would hinder her ability to manage people. “I empowered everyone in that group with the respect I had for their work. They could teach me, and we trusted and learned from each other,” she said. “I know that I’m working with the best engineers in the world, and I learn so much from everyone that I work with.” 

She believes that challenging herself and moving to different programs has revealed her hidden strengths and talents. “Knowing yourself is very important to be successful.” 

Shirley Holland-Hunt in front of NASA’s Space Exploration Vehicle at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Holland-Hunt is also a member of the Ensemble Theatre in Houston, Texas, which aims to preserve African American artistic expression. She and her husband enjoy attending car shows and driving her 1972 Pontiac GTO. 

Coming from a large family of eight, with a father who was a sharecropper, Holland-Hunt helped her family pick cotton. Despite her parents not graduating from junior high school, she and her eight siblings graduated from college, with five becoming engineers. Her husband also works for Axiom Space, one of the agency’s commercial space partners. 

Holland-Hunt believes that experiencing adversity at a young age developed her character. “My parents always told me to be the best we can be and to love ourselves. That made us feel special and empowered me to do great things,” she said. “We never got new books, but we never saw it as a reason not to learn or excel. It teaches you to work with what you have. Now, when challenges come, I think, ‘That’s nothing. I’ve lived through worse.’” 

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