Following a full day of fireside chats and breakout sessions, the MIT Sloan Women’s Conference concluded with a moving keynote address delivered by Monica Lee, EMBA ’19, NASA Detailee, Federal Reserve OCISO.
“MIT Sloan is my home—the place that energizes me and restores my hope in the possibilities of humankind,” said Lee. “It is where we recognize the impact of the sum of our experiences and the calling for our futures.”
Although some might equate the Institute’s prescient approach to making an impact to magic or science fiction, Lee cautioned her audience against such thinking.
“It is science fact,” she said, “and that is clear in the dialogues and the engagements that have occurred in this year’s breakout sessions, in the conversations in the hallway.”
Seeking the next challenge to solve
Lee entered the MIT Sloan Executive MBA program while working NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where she logged thousands of hours in Mission Control before transitioning to mission procurement and negotiation.
“I was able to succeed in doing that by applying not only my operational knowledge, but innovative strategy and the ability to connect on a human level,” said Lee. “That is the power of our energy. We as women do that well—to walk into a room where the odds are against you and walk out with the respect of your counterparts and the winning agreement for all seated at the table. We can all influence change like that.”
At MIT Sloan, Lee met and befriended a cohort “comprised of great minds and highly accomplished humans from all over the world.” Her classmates’ varied experiences and specialties taught her many lessons throughout her time in the EMBA program, including the necessity of continued learning and change.
“Once you have been exposed to this depth of mental stimulation, mediocrity and complacency are just simply not an option. You are seeking the next challenge to solve,” said Lee. “You only know that your next move could change everything, and you are the energy to fuel the difference.”
Upon graduation, Lee became the chief of staff at the Johnson Space Center, a role she maintained for three years before making another transition. She now serves as NASA detailee in the office of the chief information security officer at the Federal Reserve.
Becoming a powerhouse of energy
Throughout her speech, Lee returned again and again to the concept of energy.
She drew on physical systems—especially the first law of the conservation of energy, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; a W.E.B. DuBois quote about there being “no force equal to a woman determined to rise”; and the very nature of existence itself.
And it all led to the oft-repeated chorus, “You are energy.”
“The energy that is the woman beside you, the energy that is the woman across the room from you, across the globe from you—we are the means to enable a system of energy that fuels leaders in every sector, in every country, on every continent of the world,” Lee proclaimed. “This room is a powerhouse of female energy, a necessity for our culture.”
Reflecting on her childhood, Lee said that she never could have imagined the experiences she would have and the friends she would meet as a physics undergraduate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a flight controller at NASA, and an EMBA student at MIT Sloan. She admitted to harboring many doubts as a young girl, thanks in part to the negative influence of others.
“But not one drop of your self-worth depends on anyone else’s acceptance nor opinion,” said Lee. “You are energy, and your energy is enough. You are enough to inject strength, hope, and inspiration into the veins of humanity.”