By: Somdatta Basu, MBA Class of 2023, The University of Houston
Breaking Barriers: IACCGH Hosts Evening of Empowerment with Women Leaders Inspiring the Next Generation
March 29, Houston,TX: On a beautiful Wednesday evening, Houston witnessed a captivating conversation between two exceptional women from diverse backgrounds who have made significant strides in their respective fields. The Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston (IACCGH) in collaboration with Shell USA Inc., organized a thought-provoking event as part of the “IACCGH Women Mean Business, “series which brought together an accomplished Flight Director at NASA, Pooja Jesrani, and a distinguished Senior Vice President and CEO of Memorial Hermann Southwest and Sugarland Hospitals, Malisha Patel. Welcoming the speakers and guests, Jagdip Ahluwalia, the Executive Director of the IACCGH, said, “We are thrilled to have Pooja Jesrani and Malisha Patel share their inspiring stories and insights with us. Their accomplishments are a true testament to the strength and resilience of women in business and leadership positions.” Rajiv Bhavsar, President of IACCGH, added, “To be a woman in business means more than 1200 new businesses every month in the US. Out of that 42% of all US businesses are owned by women, 30 million employment opportunities are provided, and 1.9 trillion dollars of revenue is generated. 860 women-owned businesses are in Texas.”The event, held at the Tea Room of the Junior League of Houston, saw an engaged audience listening intently as Pooja shared her remarkable journey, the challenges she faced and her vision for the future. The evening was one of empowerment, learning, and celebration of women’s achievements.
Malisha Patel opened the evening with a promise of pearls of wisdom to be gained by all in attendance. As she introduced Pooja Jesrani to the audience, Malisha emphasized the first South Asian woman at the helm of mission control at NASA to be someone who can thrive under pressure. “As one of NASA’s 24 flight directors responsible for managing all human space flights, including the International Space Station, Pooja has honed her skills in managing complex life support and motion control systems in space. Recently, she has been instrumental in integrating mission operations for upcoming commercial crew flights for SpaceX and Boeing,” Malisha said.In her introduction, Patel shared a quote that she found particularly fitting for Jesrani’s accomplishments: “Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.”
Thanking Jesrani for her leadership with NASA and mission control, which is the helm of America’s human space flights, Patel skillfully steered the conversation with insightful questions that delved into Pooja’s incredible journey from an Aerospace Engineering student at the University of Texas at Austin to become a Flight Director at NASA. Jesrani’s responses were thought-provoking, and her experiences were relatable to women everywhere, inspiring them to pursue their dreams relentlessly. The conversation was peppered with anecdotes from both women that illustrated the importance of resilience, hard work, and never giving up on one’s aspirations. As the evening progressed, Pooja and Malisha delved beyond their personal journeys and touched upon the broader context of women in the workplace. Growing up in a family that nurtured her love for space, Pooja’s curiosity, and fascination with the mysteries of the universe were evident from an early age. As she shared, “My mom is an artist, and my dad is a surgeon. He is also a space nerd. Thus, I grew up with a love of space.”
Pooja’s passion led her to pursue Aerospace engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. It was during a career fair that she landed an internship opportunity at NASA, which proved to be a turning point in her career. As the first South-Asian female flight director of NASA imparted some invaluable advice to those striving to achieve their dreams. Pooja emphasized the significance of pursuing one’s passion and finding something that ignites the fire within. “Find something that you love. If you do that, you will automatically excel in it and climb the ladder of success,” she said, inspiring the next generation of leaders to follow their hearts.Drawing from her personal experience, Pooja also stressed the importance of aligning skills with passion. She believed that this fusion allows individuals to harness their potential and fulfill their goals.”As a flight director, my job is to keep astronauts safe on the ISS,” Pooja said. She elaborated on the functions of the ISS, stating that it is a science laboratory. It is also a place where astronauts conduct experiments and research. Pooja’s role as a flight director is critical, as she is responsible for the safety of the astronauts and ensuring that the mission runs smoothly.When it comes to balancing work and personal life, Pooja reiterated the importance of having a supportive partner and family. She cherished the joy of being a mother and acknowledged the crucial role her family played in her journey.
Speaking about the challenges she faced, the young leader credited her success to NASA’s strong mentorship program and the importance of feedback. “The challenges I overcame were because of great mentors. Take 360-degree feedback from anyone with whom you are working after an assignment and give feedback to younger people. Mentorship and feedback are the two things that helped me overcome any challenge if they were there,” she shared. When asked about her pearls of wisdom, Pooja expressed her desire to live in a world where being a “first” South Asian is no longer a topic of discussion. “I look forward to a day when there are so many South Asians excelling in various fields that the term ‘first’ becomes irrelevant,” she said. She believed that it was essential to continue striving for success and passing on the legacy of excellence to future generations. Shell representative Alyssa Holmes-Henderson thanked the speakers and helped present Pooja with an IACCGH signature memento elephant.