Iwonka Palusinski

Iwonka Palusinski - 2020 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Department Director
The Aerospace Corporation, USA

SPIE Member

Iwonka Palusinski

Country of Birth: Poland
Country of Residence: USA
Educational Background: BS in Optical Engineering; MS and PhD in Optical Sciences


When I was a child and my dad helped me with my homework, he continuously encouraged me to understand “the why” behind things and not just follow a formula. This was not always very fun because I wanted to get done with my homework and go play. However, in the end, his approach sparked my curiosity and gave me confidence in my ability to understand new STEM concepts and really own them.

My team and I support the optical design, analysis, and testing of sensor systems from short-turnaround prototypes to Class A satellites. I lead multi-disciplinary teams that study and assess what is possible for future satellite systems. I am also responsible for recruiting, managing, mentoring, and developing staff.

I challenge myself to take risks and pursue paths that are outside of the norm, while ensuring that I do what is right for me. During my fourth year in grad school, I was not thrilled with my dissertation topic and I decided to enter the workforce to try something different. That is when I began working on satellite integration and testing and found my true passion: space systems for the defense industry. After four years at work, I came back to grad school and completed my dissertation in one year. There is nothing quite like passion to enable focus and fuel progress.

I wish I was advised early on that my innate soft skills were just as valuable as my technical skills. Based upon my experience as a manager, soft skills such as teamwork, flexibility, feedback acceptance, time management, and communication are critical for success in the workplace. Developing those skills early while in school is not a nice-todo activity but a must-do activity.

Be yourself and value the strengths you bring to the table. We cannot all have identical skills. Diversity of skills and thought strengthen a team. Sometimes skills that are not as valued in one work environment will be very valuable in another work environment. You are empowered to find the right fit for yourself!

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