Doreen Nixon's career has sailed right along as Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD) merged and reorganized to meet business needs. She joined a predecessor to the company as an engineer in 1983. Since then she's earned ever greater responsibility and moved up to her present post of director of engineering integrity for Lockheed Martin's Maritime Systems & Sensors (MS2) business. "Through it all, I've worked at the same location in Moorestown, NJ," she notes.
MS2 is a Lockheed Martin business unit with six major sites: Moorestown, NJ; Syracuse, NY; Eagan, MN; Baltimore, MD; Manassas, VA and Akron, OH. Nixon frequently visits the other sites, which were acquired over the years from Martin Marietta, General Electric and IBM.
Surface, air and undersea
MS2 provides surface, air and undersea systems as part of more than 460 programs for U.S. military and international customers. The systems range from radar and surveillance systems to undersea and surface combat systems and some of the most advanced ship hull forms operating today.
Other capabilities include anti-air, anti-surface, anti-submarine and electronic warfare; maritime patrol; mine warfare; weather forecasting; and navigation and gravity systems.
MS2 has more than 11,000 employees, among them systems, software, mechanical, electrical and other engineers, along with analysts and experts in many fields.
Consolidating six sites
In 2003 the company consolidated the business aspects of the six MS2 facilities into a single entity. Nixon's position was created in 2004 to unify technical ops at the sites. She reports to the MS2 VP of technical operations.
A major part of the job is determining common processes and tools to leverage the strengths and abilities of each facility. The idea is to operate as a single company without losing the identities and expertise of the individual sites.
"It's a very rewarding balancing act," Nixon says. "People gain so much as they work with their counterparts at each of the sites. Rotating among the sites is a key component of our professional development programs."
She oversees two such programs, one for entry-level engineers and one for engineers with four to eight years experience.
A democratic solution
Another important duty for Nixon is finding commonalities among the six sites. "The first part of getting to know someone is getting through the communications challenge. Are we really nodding our heads about the same thing or are we talking beyond each other," she asks.
"I listen to the variations, sort through them and try to come up with a demo-cratic solution rather than a dictatorship solution," she says. "Capitalizing on unique strengths and viewpoints builds a strong team and yields great results."
Nixon grew up in Folcroft, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. All four of the children in her family went to college. The older ones chose teaching and business, but she wanted something different. A high school physics teacher encouraged her to explore engineering, and "I found that I liked it," she says.
She went to Widener University (Chester, PA) where the teachers were very supportive. She helped start a SWE chapter on campus, and graduated with a BSCE in 1980, one of the vanguard of women entering engineering at the time.
Pots of molten steel
Her first job was at U.S. Steel's Fairless Works (Morrisville, PA). To inspect the mill, she climbed along overhead crane runways over crucibles of molten steel.
After she proved she could do that job, she was rotated into another unit where she helped procure heavy equipment. Then she moved into design of support structures for new equipment. She was getting a great overview, but of an industry that faltered and failed.
She quickly found another job with a consulting company doing bridge inspections. But after a short time a position opened up at RCA, now part of Lockheed Martin, in Moorestown, and she went back to design, working on radar systems.
"I fell in love with design," she says. "The most exciting part was seeing your design work and never designing the same part twice."
In 1985 she completed an MSME from Villanova University (Villanova, PA). She was about ready to advance to senior engineer status in 1986, but discovered that she would become a mother first.
"My job moves were timed around projects and around my children," she says. "I didn't like to move mid-stream."
The baby was colicky, requiring a lot of attention, and Nixon realized she couldn't go back to work full time after her eight weeks of maternity leave. Her husband, an accountant based in Philadelphia, was too far away to offer emergency help. But her boss wrangled a part-time status for her, unusual at the time, and she worked on that basis for six months.
She had two more children and worked part time for six months after each was born. "It's not a female issue, it's a family issue," she says. "When your company respects you and accommodates you that way, you feel very dedicated."
Her two daughters and son are now eighteen, sixteen and ten, and a great source of strength. "I get the most fulfillment out of spending time with my family," she says. "Spending time with them replenishes me."
Growing a career
Meanwhile Nixon's career was growing. In 1992 she moved from senior engineer to lead member of engineering staff. "I quickly evolved into running my own team," she says. "I love managing people because there is so much to learn from them." In 1997 she became manager of the mechanical design and analysis group.
Good managers have helped her along the way. "They were a terrific resource and to this day I stay in touch with them," she says.
The Moorestown SWE site
In 2002 Nixon helped set up a local sub-section of SWE at the Moorestown site. Members visit schools, support university career days and science fairs and get involved in Engineering Week activities.
The most rewarding event of all is Women in Engineering Day, where high school girls and their counselors are bused in to explore various areas of engineering. "It's extremely energizing to step away from the challenges of work and remind yourself of why engineering is so much fun," she says. "I can share with others and bring them into the technical field."
Nixon credits both herself and her company for her success at home and at work. "I learned valuable lessons in how to balance my family and work life. You need to communicate and you need to be flexible."