Dr. Leslie Tamppari, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
What was your first job?
My first real job (outside of baby sitting) was working at a local movie theater. I started selling concessions, then moved to selling tickets at the box office, and eventually to assistant managing it and learning how to thread the movies, solve breaks in the film, and take the money to the bank.
What got you interested in science?
I was always interested in science. Well, I guess I was always interested in everything. I did have a student job during college working for the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff (I looked into it since some of my friends were doing this job). They did planetary work, so that was my first exposure. My actual job was deadly dull, but it gave me some insight into the field. I didn't yet think about planetary science as a career until I applied for an internship in late college. JPL came interviewing and so I interviewed with them and they hired me. I worked here (also in a particular job I didn't like) during the Voyager Neptune encounter. That was a very exciting time with discoveries every day. That is what made me want to do this as a career.
Who has been a mentor for you and how was that helpful?
Lots of people! My parents always encouraged me and helped me at home with my homework and studying. I always looked to people older than me that were successful and tried to get to know then and figure out what it was that they did that helped them be successful. Even today, one of my biggest mentor's is a senior scientist at JPL. I take every opportunity to talk to him and discuss my work with him. I try very hard to follow his advice and to learn from him. I try to learn the way he thinks and the way he approaches things.

I did join a mentor program in high school also. I got paired up with an accountant. The useful thing I got out of that was that I didn't want to do that kind of work! I've found that "informal" mentors are the best. Just try to talk to and learn from those that you admire.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
Hmmm... I'm not sure. I wanted to be a professional pom-pom girl (when I was 8) and then a Veterinarian, and then unsure for a long time, until finally working at JPL became my goal. I would probably be an engineer if I hadn't gone the science route. Or a different kind of scientist. I was also very interested in music when I was younger, but my parents prohibited me from following those dreams/goals.

Another point I'll make is that I took every opportunity to get jobs. I signed up for my high school job placement program and that's what got me into the theater job. I signed up for the internship program at college that got my foot in the door at JPL. I talked to friends about the Geological survey job. I think my parents helped with that too; they knew the parents of the other friends working there. So, take every opportunity!