Women of color play vital roles in the country's defense
"The demographics of our nation indicate an increase in women as the knowledge workers of today." � Capt Ken Barrett, U.S. Navy
"I was always willing to learn anything and everything I could and my managers took notice and challenged me with exciting programs." � Maritza Alexander, NAVSEA
By Claire Swedberg
Whether through contractors, or working directly for the U.S. government and military agencies, civilian and military women of color are standing shoulder to shoulder with men in the tasks of preparing and/or running the U.S. defense enterprise. Their work in engineering- and IT-related responsibilities is helping to manage the war effort, build weapons and satellites and ensure the safety of military personnel.
In the Navy
Increased female presence can be seen in the U.S. Navy where there are more women, both civilian and enlisted, than at any time in the past. "In the Navy today, ninety-five percent of billets are open to women," says Captain Ken Barrett, head of the Navy's diversity directorate. "Women are permanently assigned to all ships, afloat staffs, Naval Construction Force units and aviation squadrons, regardless of mission." In fact, a policy change in April 2010 now lets women serve on submarines.
Nearly fifty-eight percent of today's college grads are women. "The demographics of our nation indicate an increase in women as the knowledge workers of today," says Barrett. "Opening the door to this key pool will give talented female officers opportunities for both command at sea and promotion to admiral, and it will be a great asset to the strength of our Navy."
Captain Angela Albergottie at the Naval Network Warfare Command
At the Naval Network Warfare Command, Captain Angela Albergottie is division head of the office of compliance and assessment for network operations. She earned her BS in medical record admin at Norfolk State University (Norfolk, VA) in 1988 and received her commission in the Naval Reserve as a general unrestricted line officer. She now holds an MS in information systems management from George Washington University (Washington, DC).
Albergottie's father served in the U.S. Navy. When she was just seven he took her aboard a Navy warship. It was then, she says, that she decided to follow in his footsteps.
When she graduated and received her commission she was assigned to her first duty station. The station was at the Pentagon, working for the OPNAV telecom center as a communication watch officer and maintenance officer, providing voice and record communications support for the Chief of Naval Operations, OPNAV staff and twenty-five other major commands in the National Capitol region.
In 1991 Albergottie transferred to Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, as administrative department head. She had other duties, too: command security manager, public affairs officer and command duty officer.
In 1992 she was assigned to the commander of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) in Washington, DC as project manager for the Navy Worldwide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS).
She was responsible for coordinating all WWMCCS installations afloat and ashore, and was also assigned as project officer for the Submarine Joint Maritime Command Information System, and Theater Ballistic Missile Defense Command and Control fleet exercise coordinator. That meant overseeing a multimillion dollar budget related to theater air defense, and command, control, communications, computer and intelligence (C4I).
In 1996 Albergottie transferred to Patrol Wing One detachment Kadena in Okinawa, Japan. As intelligence department head she was responsible for briefing the air crews before they went out on tactical missions. "It was out of my comfort zone but I had a good team," she says. She got on-the-job training by learning from those she worked with.
Two years later she was assigned to Supreme Allied Command in the Atlantic (SACLANT) in Norfolk, VA as integrated logistics support manager for the Maritime Command and Control Information System (MCCIS) program. She took a leading role in developing the statement of work and required credentials for contractors for a three million dollar contract to support SACLANT HQ staff in planning, development and support of MCCIS throughout NATO.
In 2001 Albergottie transferred to Fleet Surveillance Support Command (FSSC) in Chesapeake, VA as the executive officer responsible for more than 300 people, both in government service and contractors, with a $33 million annual budget. FSSC operates and maintains relocatable over-the-horizon radar (ROTHR) to support the counter-illicit-trafficking operations mission.
Then she was selected to forward-deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom as a network operation officer for the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority. She was responsible for supporting the multination, inter-service coalition and interagency HQ, a presidential envoy and the coalition administrator for the nation of Iraq.
It was during that tour that Albergottie began shifting her skills into the area of IT and network design, although she was still in management. She went to Iraq with one of the first waves of military support to install a communications network for the U.S. military and the nation of Iraq.
Next she transferred to Kuwait as officer in charge of the intermediate staging base, pushing supplies forward to the Joint Task Force before deploying forward herself. She drove an SUV into Iraq to oversee completion of the communications infrastructure there; a version of that system is still in use in Iraq.
In 2004 Albergottie moved to the global network operations center in Norfolk, VA as assisting officer in charge. She was responsible for efficient administration and procedures of a detachment that implements security posture and monitors network health for all Navy/Marine Corps intranet services. "I was instrumental in ensuring the Navy's information assurance goals were met," she says proudly.
In 2006 she was assigned to the commander of Carrier Strike Group Ten as Deputy N6 and knowledge manager. She managed the strike group's C4I system ops and support, including the destroyer squadron, air wing and assigned units.
Two years later she was transferred to Commander, Naval Network Warfare Command (NNWC) as director of the office of compliance and assessment. She was handpicked to head this newly established NNWC Office, leading the effort to centralize information support for all Navy commands in the U.S. and overseas and make sure the commands have secure IT networks and pass required inspections.
Often in her career Albergottie has been the only African American as well as the only female in the room. But she's not bothered by that. "You have to be energetic, a 'people person,'" she says, "and you have to be a problem solver, dependable and honest."
Probably her most useful character trait, though, has been her flexibility. "Every job I've had I have tried to gain an education along the way," she declares. And when she faces new challenges, she relies on her people to provide the right information.
"I'm a straight shooter," Albergottie says. "I observe first, and then I'm very straightforward. I think people respect that."
Air Force Lt Lara Harris: officer in charge of the bomb squad
In the U.S. Air Force, commissioned officer Lt. Lara Harris has a critical role as Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer-in-charge of logistics, working in civil engineering.
She earned her BSCE at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2009. Unlike other services, EOD is a civil engineering category in the Air Force and requires an engineering degree for commissioned officers. With her CE, Harris oversees the operators who work with and defuse bombs.
"The most important part of my job is taking care of the people in my shop: my coworkers and members of my team. I have to be sure that, as the ones who make things happen, they have the resources to get the job done," she says.
Today Harris is part of the management team for thirty-nine EOD technicians. She works directly under a captain who is also the flight commander and a chief, and runs enlisted matters day-to-day. "We manage operations, logistics and training to ensure that our technicians, the bomb squad, are ready for their deployments and various missions," she explains.
Harris enjoys the engineering tasks she encounters, but her job involves hard challenges. "It is never easy to send out fellow EOD techs who may lose their lives in action," she says.
Harris believes she's "a stickler for details, and that has definitely helped me get to where I am today. Paying attention to details is important in engineering and EOD.
"EOD and engineering are not always easy, but they are absolutely rewarding."
Maritza Alexander of NAVSEA
Maritza Alexander of NAVSEA-affiliated Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) began working on her BSChE at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana while living in Colombia. She moved back to the U.S. and completed her degree at New Mexico State University (Las Cruces, NM) in 2002. In 2010 she received an MS in technical management from Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, MD).
Her career began when she was recruited by Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA, Washington, DC) as part of its naval acquisition intern program. She rotated every six months, through groups like Program Executive Office Ships, SPAWAR Systems Center, and Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems; she was exposed to the shipbuilding program, warfare systems engineering and radar development before she settled into her current work in combat systems development.
Today she manages the Aegis Modernization Advance Capability Build 12 program and is responsible for managing development of computer programs, hardware and war-fighting improvements.
The biggest challenge she's faced was managing a major program from beginning to end as a new employee. "My job requires making tough decisions as well as the right decisions," she says. "I had to learn when to go with my gut instinct and when to follow advice.
"I am lucky to have a job that challenges me mentally and is rewarding at the same time. Coming to work with a positive attitude and a smile on my face helps both me and my team stay focused when it comes to resolving program challenges or issues."
Her advice to other women in the field: "Be proactive. I was always willing to learn anything and everything I could and my managers took notice and challenged me with exciting programs."
At NRL, Swati Shah oversees R&D; in communications security
At the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), section head Swati Shah is a leader in the engineering sector.
She received her BSEE from George Washington University in 1989 and earned her MSEE at Johns Hopkins University. But she was working for the NRL long before graduation, beginning in 1986 as part of a co-op program.
After graduation she was hired as an engineer in the NRL's IT division. She served as a system security engineer, leading R&D; efforts, and in 2002 she became a section head in communications security (COMSEC). Today she leads a section of eighteen computer scientists and engineers working in COMSEC R&D.; The job involves establishing business areas for the section to tackle, addressing Navy and Department of Defense (DoD) emerging cybersecurity science and technology (S&T;) needs and operational requirements. She proposes new R&D; projects to various sponsoring agencies and acquires funding for the projects.
With funding assured, "I manage the section's resources, and lead specific system security efforts," she explains. Projects range from S&T; research for longer-term cybersecurity defense programs to developing and fielding systems. "My job requires continuous interaction with DoD and Navy sponsors, user communities, and Air Force, Army and NSA reps. I'm actively involved in joint technical working groups."
She also writes technical proposals and reviews her colleagues' proposals and her section's software and hardware designs and test plans. "The full breadth of engineering disciplines is required for my position so everything I've studied has been helpful," she says. "My systems level classes helped me think outside the box and be more systems-oriented. And my engineering co-op experience at NRL helped augment my education with real-world practical experience in my field."
To other female engineers, Shah says, "Go for it!" Cybersecurity is an emerging field that has great potential and applies many engineering and computer science disciplines, she notes. "I highly recommend it. And the diverse and challenging environment at NRL has been a great place to build a career."
Naomi Esquibel Singer: IT in the FBI
Although Naomi Esquibel Singer is assistant section chief in the demanding IT branch of the FBI, she started out with a 1978 BA in social work and social science from Highlands University (Las Vegas, NM). "I wanted to go into civil service and assist people in my hometown and state," she says.
She changed her direction when she met with FBI recruiters. The agency offered a great deal of travel and she liked the idea. She joined the agency
She started as a clerk in Washington, DC, working on national security programs, but soon moved to a field office closer to her home and family, in San Antonio, TX. There she was introduced to analysis and coding, which she loved. "I was learning something new and challenging there," she says. Then she moved to the Albuquerque, NM office where she worked in recruiting.
In 1985 Singer got involved with the field office information management system program. She worked on the setup of IT systems in each of the agency's fifty-six field offices, traveling to each office to help install computers and software. "That was a very exciting time for me," she says. "I was constantly learning something new about IT and the different field offices."
The assignment went so well that she was sent to do the same job in the agency's international offices. And when she came back she was given a promotion and asked to oversee the field computer specialist program, responsible for managing promotional opportunities and career guidelines for technical personnel.
In the early 1990s the FBI launched its automated case support system. "My role was to gather requirements and do testing," Singer says. She went on to work in network support, bringing varied IT tools to end users across the organization.
In 2000 Singer was promoted to chief of the automated case support unit, overseeing the contractors and FBI programmers responsible for management and operation of the system for the approximately 33,000 employees in field offices.
This past February Singer was appointed assistant section chief of the infrastructure support section. "This is an excellent, very challenging group," she says, overseeing the enterprise help center, telecommunications, operating systems support and the data center.
Fascinating, demanding and varied work. "If you want to move up, you want to embrace change," Singer says. "Don't be afraid to volunteer for projects, that's the way you're going to learn."
Valencia Hale: acing the work at Aerojet
At aerospace and defense contractor Aerojet (Sacramento, CA), Valencia Hale is senior project valve engineer. She provides technical oversight and project leadership for procurement and development of valve products, including liquid propellants, actuators and electronic controls. Then she communicates the status of projects to the engineering director and other management, supports the planning process for valve components and leads failure investigations.
Hale completed her BSAE in 1996 at California Polytechnic State University and went to work at Aerojet helping to design systems for launching satellites. In 1998 she was promoted to launch support engineer, working on launch vehicle assemblies for the Titan rocket program and supporting the task team. After that she moved into defense programs and briefly supported NASA's Orion program.
In 2005 Hale became a senior project engineer, working with suppliers, developing new designs for valves and doing qualification tests for the Missile Defense Agency.
She and her team develop specs and drawings, and review designs and test plans submitted by subcontractors to make sure the valves will meet Aerojet's requirements. As senior project engineer, she follows a valve "from design and build all the way to flight," she says.
One of the greatest assets in her job, Hale confides, is being organized. "You have to have an established plan of what you intend to do and how you're going to get there. You also need a level of diplomacy with customers, suppliers and your internal customers as well. You have to be able to work together."
Hale is only five feet two, but she's never been afraid to stand up for herself. "I don't generally get challenged because I know my facts; I do my research thoroughly, and I'm not afraid to speak up and let myself be known!"
Dr Miriam Calvo is a senior staff engineer at ITT Corp
Miriam Calvo, PhD is a senior staff engineer at ITT Electronic Systems (Palm Harbor, FL), the world's largest maker of military VHF radios. As a child Calvo had an early interest in math and spent hours helping her mechanic father. She went on to a 1987 double BS in math and EE and a 1989 MSEE from the University of South Florida (USF).
After finishing the MS she had three children, and worked part time as a research assistant at USF, where she was pursuing her 1996 PhD. Her plan was to become a professor. But "I felt I would be doing my students a disservice if I started teaching right out of a book instead of gaining real-world experience," she explains.
So Calvo joined Honeywell (Clearwater, FL), doing IC design and testing and working on oscillators for low-phase noise and frequency-shift keying applications.
After three years she moved to Xetron (Cincinnati, OH), working in analog and RF IC design with a concentration on oscillators. The company was bought by Northrop Grumman, and Calvo continued to work on IC design, now in the defense industry.
After time off to have her fourth child she joined Insyte to work on IC design, moving up to technical lead. When ITT acquired Insyte Calvo became section head for a group of eight RFIC designers who made circuits used in transmitters and receivers.
She held that job for about eighteen months, but found it was pulling her away from detailed design work. "I realized I like to be in a technical role," she says.
Most recently Calvo designed a power amplifier and an IQ modulator. Now she's working on another IQ modulator for an internal project. She enjoys the work and finds she can use her teaching skills to mentor others. "As time goes on you can drift away from original plans," she says. But she feels she's found a way to combine her original goal with her current work.
Her advice for other women of color in the defense industry? "Don't be intimidated by others! A female engineer brings her unique skills to the table. I still listen to my own advice every day!"
Nichole A. Haynes: engineering specialist at GDEB
Nichole A. Haynes didn't begin her career in the defense industry, but today she's an engineering specialist in the General Dynamics Electric Boat ship control software development department (Groton, CT). She earned her BSEE at Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, NY) in 1992 and her MSCS at the University of New Haven, CT in 2004.
During her last semesters at Pratt she joined Con Edison, New York City's big utility, where she had done a co-op digitizing street maps. She went on to Information Resources Inc (Fairfield, CT) in 1995 to work on customer databases.
In 1998 she moved to General Dynamics as an engineer in resource planning and scheduling. She didn't find that especially stimulating, and in 2000 she transferred to EE, doing software testing and research for electrical plant control panels.
After seven months on that job excitement entered Haynes' working life. She was transferred to ship control as an engineer, then senior engineer, and now engineering specialist, doing software design, coding and implementation of software systems. She works on remote interface controller software for the Trident and Virginia class submarines, and she has also worked on portable ship control systems and tests and debugs software.
"I like the interest and range of what I'm doing now," says Haynes. "When I came in I was hired for one thing but it helped to be open because new experiences came along. You have to be willing to try new things." With almost 11,000 employees at General Dynamics, there's a vast pool of opportunity.
General Dynamics is eager to bring in diverse techies, says Robert H. Nardone, VP for HR and admin. "We're trying to solve really difficult problems," he points out. "We're looking for perspective, for the kind of diversity that will ensure we get good solutions."
Carrie Woods: senior project quality engineer at Raytheon
Carrie Woods started out with a love of math and science, and now she's a senior project quality engineer in the performance excellence organization at the Indianapolis, IN customized engineering and depot support group of Raytheon Technical Services Co.
She completed her 2002 BSEE at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and a 2009 MBA at the University of Indianapolis. "Majoring in EE opened the door for various professional opportunities, including my current job," she says.
When she got the BSEE she went to work for PepsiCo (Purchase, NY) at a Gatorade manufacturing facility in Tolleson, AZ. As part of the company's supply chain associate rotational program, she tried out jobs as process improvement engineer, manufacturing supervisor, supply chain buyer and safety engineer, all in not much more than a year.
In 2004 Woods joined Raytheon Technical Services Co LLC as part of the performance excellence organization in customized engineering and depot support. She has moved through increased responsibilities in the performance excellence organization, supporting high-value defense programs.
Since she was working in the commercial defense industry, Woods decided to go for her 2009 MBA to enhance her capabilities as a technical contributor. "I also felt an MBA would help pave a clearer career path to management in the future," she says.
One step in the right direction is the prestigious Engineering Leadership Development Program at Raytheon. During this rigorous two-year training Woods is learning about Raytheon businesses, interacting with management across the company, and "enjoys challenging opportunities to enhance my leadership skills."
Now she supports products on platforms like the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the B-52 bomber, the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and the F-16 Falcon. As a senior project quality engineer she's responsible for ensuring that products shipped to the war fighters perform as required.
Besides her manufacturing responsibilities, Woods is part of an integrated project team as leader for the performance excellence organization on each of her projects. She's also chair of the Indianapolis chapter of the Raytheon Minority Network.
When she arrived in 2004 Woods was the youngest employee in her group, and had the least experience. "As with any transition, I quickly learned that the faster I learn, the faster I can be a contributing member of the team," she says. And so she is.
Nydia De Nova: principal systems engineer at Textron Defense Systems
A background in software engineering brought Nydia De Nova into the defense industry. But today, as principal electrical systems engineer at Textron Defense Systems' Goleta, CA R&D; development center, she and her team are deeply into systems for military vehicles.
De Nova earned her 1984 BSCS at the University of Texas, El Paso and later completed an MS in artificial intelligence at the University of Minnesota.
Her first job was at Control Data (Bloomington, MN), where she worked in defense apps as a software engineer. In 1987 she took her software know-how to IBM in Rochester, MN, working on apps for the large servers of the era. "We were the people that fixed the problems; we often worked around the clock," she remembers.
Continuing in software and systems engineering, she worked at Honeywell, Medtronic, Computer Motion, Ericsson and Raytheon before joining Textron Defense Systems in 2008. She helped engineer products and systems for commercial avionics, medical devices, cable TV, hybrid fiber co-ax, Internet protocol network access, data backbone and optical networks. She was part of projects from the F-14 Tomcat aircraft to a robotic endoscopic heart surgery system.
She also worked as a software engineer in real-time embedded software and firmware: all facets of the project life cycle. Her forays into testing built her knowledge of military spec protocols, industry standards and best practices, and she completed extensive Six Sigma training.
Now she's at Systems' Goleta, CA R&D; development center, where her team develops active protective systems for ground and airborne military vehicles, and homeland security equipment like radiation detection systems.
Textron Defense Systems is a great company to work for, De Nova says. "It provides the opportunity to develop innovative and technically advanced products, and employees are encouraged to create and sustain a diverse and inclusive workplace."
De Nova thrives on handling multiple projects and priorities on a daily basis. "Perseverance, innovation, attention to detail and the ability to get things done have helped, too!" she adds with a smile.
"I'm thrilled that the work I do makes systems more effective, and that I participate in all phases of the software development cycle."
Along with her work in avionics she has developed a personal interest in flying, and has a pilot's license.
Mala Kataria: emerging technologies at Northrop Grumman Information Systems
Mala Kataria is senior technical manager of the Northrop Grumman Information Systems (NGIS) technology investment portfolio. She evaluates innovative ways to enhance or improve large, complex programs for the DoD and other federal agencies.
She must stay abreast of emerging technologies that might help resolve customer challenges, and ensure that Northrop Grumman's research resources are used efficiently. "The ability to express technical thoughts in a simple fashion has definitely helped my career," she observes.
She completed her BS in business admin at Delhi University (Delhi, India) in 1983, followed by a CS postgrad program, and went to work for a software company in India.
In 1998 she moved to the U.S., and in 2010 she completed an MS in technology management at George Mason University (Fairfax, VA) with a concurrent certificate from CIO University, run by the U.S. General Services Admin (GSA).
She started in the U.S. as technical program manager for IT consultant Vistronix (Reston, VA), where she managed projects for the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Transportation.
In 2005 she joined NGIS as senior tech manager in the office of the chief technology officer.
NGIS has many diversity groups and Kataria is co-chair of the one focused on Asian-Pacific professionals. "I am always looking for additional opportunities and responsibilities that will give me good experience and help my career," she says.
"Coming into a new country has its challenges. In the beginning I had to find new ways to talk to people. When people here stand around the water cooler they talk about very different sports from the ones we focused on in India!
"But I worked on it, and talked a lot with my young son who gave me a better understanding of the ways of my new surroundings.
"My participation in the diversity group has helped."
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