Congratulations to Allison Barto (’94), this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Barto is currently a Director at Ball Aerospace where she worked on the Webb Space Telescope for 17 years. Her interest in studying space was sparked at 11 years old when she was on a trip to Mt. Rainier and she attended a star talk from the park ranger who shared not only the constellations and Greek mythology behind them, but also the science of stars and space. 

“After that I decided, I’m hooked! I was going to study what was out there in the universe,” Barto says.

After journeying through high school at Overlake and college at Harvey Mudd, with the focused goal of pursuing astrophysics, she realized as she approached grad school that she didn’t want to specialize in one small area of study, but rather wanted to learn about multiple areas of study and how they intersect.

“I like to understand the connections between things. I enjoy knowing a little bit about everything,” Barto says. This led her to pursue aerospace, which allowed her to still study space but in a much more tactical and practical way.

In her presentation to students, she emphasized the importance of finding the right path for them as individuals in the world. “You have to understand who you are and how you see the world and find a career that aligns with that,” she says.

During the talk, Barto shared a high level overview of the process that went into designing the Webb Space Telescope and how much she loves being on the cutting edge of innovation in the field. During the design of the telescope not only were they learning about the science as they worked, but the engineering and methods had to adapt to the science as well.

“One of the exciting things about working in the space industry is that almost everything we do has never been done before,” she says. She looks forward to the things NASA will do in the future with the science and engineering they developed while working on the Webb telescope.

Barto also spoke about what path and skills led her to where she is today. She advised students to always be learning from every job no matter how challenging and from every person you interact with especially in your work. She also encouraged them to trust their gut to point them in the right direction and told them that it's ok for them to change their mind on what they want to pursue, just like she did.

But one of the most important things she emphasized practicing and learning is effective communication. For her this has meant always working together with others to learn from them and to communicate your own thoughts and ideas, and learning how to work effectively as a part of a team. “Those skills are what make you successful in the world,” she says.

However, she couldn’t neglect the importance of writing. She noted that writing is important in every career a student might pursue. She appreciates the role Overlake plays in fostering engagement in the world and effective communication.  “We live in a connected world and anything we do we have to be able to communicate it to others,” she says.