November 13, 2012
|Dolores Petropulos speaks during the TEDxNASAJSCWomen, at the Teague Auditorium, Johnson Space Center.
It took only two years for Dolores Petropulos to realize that retirement was not for her. After spending 28 years on the Orlando police force, she more than earned her R & R. “But I was bored; my brain was stagnating.” So, she set her sights on a career working at NASA. This fall, Petropulos began pursuing a four-year computer science degree at the Hamilton Holt School.
That’s the sort of 180 that is quickly earning trend status among retirees. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), eight out of ten Baby Boomers want to keep working after retirement. About six percent of those plan to find a job in a different field, an undertaking that’s now been dubbed “recareering.”
Recareering was exactly what Petropulos had in mind. “I remember reading a story about Grace Hopper a few years ago,” Petropulos said. “She’s the woman who invented the first programming language for computers. After reading that book, I just figured, if she could do it, so could I.”
But Petropulos did not have a science degree. Over the years, she had pursued her interest in computers by taking some part-time computer courses at Valencia College, the same place she received her A.S. degree in criminal justice in 1976.
Her computer science grades were good, so good in fact that in 2011 she was given an internship at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where she joined a team working on the moon rover initiative, Project Morpheus. “It was there that I thought WOW, this is what I want to do. I went from thinking that I could get a job doing programming for some small company to seeing that I could potentially end up working on a rocket.”
You won’t find Petropulos lamenting that it took almost 40 years for her to arrive in the field she perhaps always should have been in. “When I was a younger student, before high school, I really loved the sciences. But my father had a fourth grade education; he didn’t believe in education,” Petropulos said. “I never had anyone to guide me along the way. If I has been given the guidance or the mentoring, I probably would never have ended up in law enforcement.”
At 56, she’s her own guide now, and she’s steering herself on a path that’s giving her a new zest for life. “When I went back to school, it was like my life revved back up again; it felt like such an adventure,” said Petropulos, who estimates she’ll graduate at the end of 2014 or in the spring of 2015. “You never know where this life will take you; you just have to follow your heart. This has been a lesson in never underestimating what you are capable of.”
By Kristen Manieri
Office of Marketing & Communications
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