Customer-Focused: JSC Employee Sets the Example

By Terrence Nowlin

PAE Senior Engineering Manager Eartha Smith sits at the unlikely intersection of facilities management and customer service. She knows the value of building trust and delivering a quality product. In fact, her expectations for keeping leaders happy at Johnson Space Center could be described as out of this world. 

“If we don’t take care of our customer, I guarantee you somebody else will,” Smith said. 

She lives by that motto, and it shows. Program Director Stephen Brettel recognized Smith as a PAE Values Champion for the value “Customer-Focused.” He said the importance of her work fostering relationships with customers is evidenced by increasingly complex requests for projects at the historic NASA facility.

“She’s the most trusted member of my staff in terms of the NASA customer,” Brettel said. “Eartha and her team have managed to produce more project designs in the last couple years than any other year since the contract’s inception. That includes a $14 million generator project at Mission Control because of the earned trust and established relationship.”

The 1,600-acre campus is home to Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, the Sonny Carter Training Facility and more than 100 buildings, all of which need constant care. Five teams under Smith manage engineering, maintenance, operations and construction projects on facilities throughout the center. Current efforts include designing and installing that multi-million-dollar generator and replacing sidewalks on the center’s mall that is often popular with visitors.  

“Johnson Space Center is like a little city,” Smith said. “We’re here to make sure this city is maintained and operated on all levels. This is our city and we have to take care of it.”

She’s made an impact serving in her facilities engineering capacity with PAE since 2016, but her tenure at the center dates to 1985. She said her interest in aerospace has been lifelong. 

“I’ve always been fascinated by NASA,” Smith said. “I remember growing up as a little girl, my dad would take us to the airport and let us watch the airplanes take off and land. I used to think to myself, ‘Oh maybe one day I can fly a plane.’”

Instead she landed at one of the world’s most important space facilities during an exciting time.

“The first program I worked with was the Space Shuttle program,” Smith said. “One of my most memorable events was the launch of a Space Shuttle mission. That was incredible. It’s amazing and something you can never forget.”

This spring, Smith’s longtime dedication earned deserving nod when NASA presented her the agency’s Space Flight Awareness Honoree Award. The honor is one of the highest NASA awards to individuals from its agency and the industry, recognizing a “dedication to quality work and flight safety.” It was presented to Smith in a ceremony on April 3 by Astronaut Scott Tingle. 

“I was very surprised and deeply honored,” she said. “Coming from the space program, I knew how impressive it was to receive the award.”

Brettel also nominated Smith for the NASA award. 

“The awards have to tie back to what she did specifically for our mission,” Brettel said. “Our mission is the space station and the astronauts. She’s as knowledgeable about their needs as they are.”
 
The recognition hasn’t slowed Smith’s momentum. She continues to take NASA’s needs and PAE’s mission seriously. She works hard to build trust and deliver beyond expectations. 
 
“Customer service is not just a department, it’s an attitude,” Smith said.