Carlene Neeley

Carlene Neeley holding framed picture of the northern lights. text seize the day.

Carlene was a Space Physicist, software developer, has been around the world seven times, is a licensed pilot and certified scuba diver. Get to know her in this I am League City profile. 

What do you do?

I currently support the two Assistant City Managers by doing normal executive tasks, including answering phone calls, scheduling meetings, etc. A significant fraction of my time is spent on agenda wrangling, as I work to assist departments through the process of including their items on the City Council agenda, which happens basically every two weeks.

I also work on special projects, presentations, reports, and posting agendas to the website.

How long have you worked with the City of League City?

I started in December 2019, so I’ve worked with the City for about one year and a half. Prior to that, I worked with the City of Kemah in various functions, finding what turned out to be my fourth career Over 8 years ago, my husband and I moved to southeast Texas from Huntsville, Alabama to be close to our younger son and our grandkids.

What do you enjoy most about your current role with the City of League City?

I enjoy being able to work with such a broad diversity of people to solve a broad diversity of problems. The very thing that makes me happy is solving problems.

Where are you originally from?

I’m originally from Kingsville, Texas.

What’s your educational background?

I have a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Baylor plus a Master of Science in Planetary and Space Physics, and a PhD in Geophysics and Space Physics from UCLA.  I also took post-graduate courses in Physics before entering graduate school.

My dissertation for my doctorate was on ultralow frequency waves that occur naturally in the earth’s magnetic field.

How did you decide to major in math and physics?

All throughout school, my plan was to be a teacher. By the time I got to high school, I wanted to be a math teacher. While tutoring students during my years in high school and college, I discovered I couldn’t explain how to solve problems despite seeing the solutions to the problems. I had teachers who didn’t do a good job of explaining solution processes, and I didn’t want to become that type of teacher. Math was a God-given talent I had, and it came naturally to me. I ended up taking advanced math classes in high school as a result of this talent.

When I realized I no longer wanted to become a math teacher, a physics professor introduced me to research, and I immediately fell in love with it. I continued my math degree, but also pursued physics as well. When I presented my first professional research paper before going to graduate school, I knew that was what I wanted to do because I loved doing it.

Growing up, I enjoyed reading science fiction books, and I believe that’s why I was drawn to the space physics field.

Could you describe your prior career as a Space Physicist?

When I finished my PhD, my first job was a post-doctoral appointment at Marshal Space Flight Center’s Space Sciences Lab as a National Academy of Science Resident Research Associate. These appointments are very prestigious in this field. I basically worked at NASA at Huntsville, Alabama while being paid by the National Academy of Science.

This job was really a continuation of the research I did as a graduate student, but this time, I was using additional data provided by NASA.

After Marshall, I had a second post-doctoral appointment that lasted about two and a half years at the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Environment Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

Afterwards, I received a grant from NOAA to do independent research, which lasted six months.

What was your research on?

I studied the pulsations (waves) of the earth’s magnetic field that extends into space. I studied their nature to understand their causes and effects. This naturally occurring phenomenon is related to the aurora or Northern Lights.

What types of benefits were derived from your research?

When you study pure science, you don’t know how it will eventually be used, but the earth’s magnetic field does protect us from harmful solar radiation. My research helped provide an increased understanding of how magnetic pulsations interact with other parts of our environment.

What did you enjoy most about being a Space Physicist?

I love solving problems and helping people solve problems, and that’s what I enjoyed most about being a Space Physicist. Even though I am an introvert, I’ve forced myself to learn to behave in an extroverted manner. I love standing up in front of a group and giving presentations, and as a Space Physicist, you have to be able to present your research findings in front of a group of people.

What did you do after your research appointments?

I worked for an interactive computer graphics company in Huntsville, Alabama called Intergraph Corporation. I spent almost 25 years working with them.

I managed the development of a mapping software program, which was the first interactive digital terrain modeling product on the market at the time. I was still utilizing my problem-solving, mathematics, and physics skills. I loved maps, so working at Intergraph Corporation was an easy transition for me. I also served as product/project manager for a variety of other mapping software products and projects. Over the years, I became a troubleshooter working to rescue products and projects that were in trouble.

During my time working with Intergraph, I had the opportunity to work with on a project to digitize manufacturing drawings for the U2 aircraft used by the military for the defense contractor Lockheed Martin. 

During my years as an executive at Intergraph, I was never bored; I expanded my knowledge, and I managed organizations ranging up to 300 people.

What lessons have you learned throughout your career?

I learned that I can’t always do everything myself, and I need help. At the same time, I liked helping others, too. Every time a door closed in my career, I looked around and another door opened. I wasn’t afraid to try new things. You have to go through life living it to the fullest, and do what makes you happy, and that’s what I’ve done.

What are your hobbies outside of work?

Currently reading, golfing, and occasional fishing.

Fun fact about yourself?

I’m a pilot, certified scuba diver, made two quilts in my life, and sailed and owned several sailboats. I’ve also been around the world seven times. I’ve traveled to over 30 countries, including Australia, multiple countries in Europe, India, Fiji, Japan, Peru, and Bolivia just to name a few. I traveled for business and pleasure.

How did you become a licensed pilot?

During my appointment at NASA, I got my pilot’s license, learned to fly aerobatics, and bought my first airplane, which was an open cockpit biplane you sit in with your head in the air. I just did it as a hobby.

That hobby is how I met my husband because he helped me do some repair on my airplane. Both of my stepsons were pilots at one point, too, so it definitely ran in the family.

I competed in three aerobatic competitions and became a Regional Judge for the International Aerobatic Club.

At one point, my husband and I owned eight airplanes. Most were used in the business of renting out airplanes at the airport that we managed in our spare time.

Although I haven’t flown in years, I have logged about 520 flight hours in 40 different types of aircraft.

Three words to describe yourself:

Tenacious, analytical, adventurous.