Reaching Out To Grow Future Engineers
September 10, 2010
- Dr. Robin Buckelew has been at the forefront of diversity in the Department of the Army's efforts to ensure equal employment opportunity.
- Every job "has been a growth experience for me and a broadening of my technical knowledge, skills and capabilities, and my people skills."
- "My outreach and mentoring activities, and my commitment to helping other women were a factor in this recognition."
- For her efforts, she will be recognized by the Women's Economic Development Council Foundation during the Women Honoring Women program.
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- For 43 years, Dr. Robin Buckelew has stood for the possibilities of women in the work force.
This petite, quietly self-assured woman has been, unwittingly, at the forefront of diversity in the Department of the Army's efforts to ensure equal employment opportunity, all because she happens to be a female who has a knack for engineering, science and technology.
That knack has led her down a career path that's included various technology and management positions with the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, where she is now the director for Weapons Development and Integration. In that capacity, she recently served 10 months as acting director of AMRDEC upon the retirement of longtime director Dr. Bill McCorkle, and she served a year as acting associate director for Missile Technology.
Her career has also included positions with the Office of the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (Operations Research), the Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (Land Warfare), Space and Missile Defense Command, Strategic Defense Command, Ballistic Missiles Defense Systems Command and Missile Intelligence Agency.
"I've had so many great jobs in my career," said Buckelew, who has received numerous Department of Defense awards and academic honors along the way. "I've had a fabulous time. Everything I've done - every new position and career change - has been a growth experience for me and a broadening of my technical knowledge, skills and capabilities, and my people skills."
As a member of the Senior Executive Service, Buckelew is involved with programs that encourage young people interested in science and technology fields, and she is actively recruiting and mentoring young engineers, most who join the ranks of AMRDEC through college co-op programs.
For her efforts, Buckelew will be recognized Sept. 16 by the Women's Economic Development Council Foundation during their 2010 Women Honoring Women dinner event at the Von Braun Center's North Hall.
"This honor was a complete surprise," said Buckelew, who was nominated by Jim Hatfield, an AMRDEC employee now serving as deputy director for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology in the Washington, D.C., area.
"This program is basically about women helping women. So, my outreach and mentoring activities, and my commitment to helping other women were a factor in this recognition. I'm honored and blessed to be recognized for my work. I feel other people are just as qualified and deserving, and I am very grateful I got singled out."
Buckelew's support of future engineers - both female and male - includes her participation in AMRDEC's engineer co-op program, and its Gains in Engineering and Science and Engineering Apprentice Program; her support of the Girls Science and Engineering Day at the University of Alabama-Huntsville; and her involvement in a program where AMRDEC hosts freshmen engineering students from the University of Alabama.
But, mostly, Buckelew shows her support for future engineers simply by being a role model for a diverse work force. Among her various recognitions, she was the first female inducted into the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 1995, and she received the Presidential Rank Award for meritorious service in 1997, the Superior Civil Service Award both in 1992 and 2006, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense Award for Excellence in 2005. She also received a Girl's Inc. award in 2006.
Even though the women's council award recognizes her support of women in technology fields, Buckelew does not recognize gender - or race or nationality -- when mentoring and encouraging the nation's future scientists and engineers, and the employees of AMRDEC.
"I will help anyone who comes to me. Everybody needs a hand sometimes, and I am in a position to help and guide young people in their careers," she said.
"I believe in the strength of diversity. Women bring something different to the table than men. So do blacks and Hispanics. It's a dynamic combination when you can invite all of these groups together in collaboration and decision making."
In her current position with AMRDEC, Buckelew oversees about 400 civilian and 400 contractors in the development of the Army's missile sensors, guidance and control, computer and electronics, and fire control radar technologies. Her organization is also responsible for the development of all Army tactical propulsion technologies, energetic, warhead integration, active protection systems, composite structures, weapon and sensor platform integration, corrosion prevention and control, and propulsion life cycle sustainment activities.
"We are the Army's center for missile technology," Buckelew said. "We are responsible for most of the technologies and integration that allows us to prototype missiles."
For Buckelew, all the opportunities to make a difference for the war fighter and to contribute technology expertise to the nation's defense started with her father's dream to raise at least one engineer.
"I was the oldest of three daughters. My father said I could be an engineer or a doctor, and I didn't want to be a doctor," she recalled. "I've loved this career ever since my first year in engineering school. In my first engineering class, I felt like I had come home."
At that time, she was one of 10 girls in the engineering program at the University of Alabama.
"A lot of my professors never had a girl in their class before me," Buckelew said. "I had a good relationship with most of my professors. They were dedicated to getting more girls in the program.
"I did have one guy tell me that a woman's place was picking up after a man. And there were probably some professors who didn't think I would make it. But that just made me more determined. In general, at that time a woman didn't go into engineering unless she knew she could make it. So those of us who were there were among the best students. For all of us women, it was considered inappropriate to go into engineering. So, each of us has their own special story."
Her fellow female engineering students were women who came from strong families. One was the daughter of two Navy personnel and another was told by her father that he was not going to pay for her to take home economics in college.
Buckelew, who co-oped as a student engineer for NASA at McMorrow Labs, wanted to return to Redstone Arsenal after obtaining her bachelor's in aerospace engineering in 1970.
"Industry was still not hiring women," she said. "So all of us went to work for some branch of government - TVA, the Navy, the state. And I came here.
"During those days, it was assumed the man's career was always first and it didn't matter what women did. We were told industry wouldn't hire us because we'd get married and quit. Or, if we were married, they'd say we'd get pregnant and quit. The Civil Rights Act changed all that and companies couldn't discriminate against women anymore."
During those years, Buckelew did get married - to a NASA engineer -- and she did have two children. But her career continued to be an important part of her life.
"My husband knew what he was getting into," she said, smiling. "I was going to have a career and he was always supportive."
Through the years, Buckelew has been part of the growth of AMRDEC and its capabilities, and watched its technological strength survive through the pressures of cutbacks and downsizing.
"Because of Dr. McCorkle's foresight, we have remained highly technical. We do the real work of designing, testing and building," she said.
"I hope that AMRDEC has a reputation as an accurate, honest broker that values technical truth above any self-interest so that we can continue to help the program executive offices be smart buyers of technology. It is in this organization that technology gets proven out and what we find here enables decision makers to go forward with decisions that help the ultimate customer - the guys and gals in the field."
Even though there have been difficulties and roadblocks in her career, Buckelew has learned to be patient, and to turn disappointments into opportunities for professional and personal growth.
"I always tell people to take setbacks and see if there is a way to use them for self development," she said. "When I had a setback, I would look for opportunities to further my education and, by doing that, I eventually ended up with a Ph.D."
Buckelew received her master's in engineering in 1977 from the University of Alabama-Huntsville and her doctorate in engineering in 1994 from UAH.
Being an engineer and manager has given Buckelew a deep sense of appreciation for those who work within her organization.
"It is gratifying to be a supervisor and have people wanting to carry out your expectations and working so hard to make things happen," she said. "Today, I'm more optimistic and I believe more in the essential goodness of people than ever before. I have an enormous respect for the technical capabilities of those working here."
And, although she is beyond the age when she could retire, Buckelew said she has plenty to keep her busy on the job.
"There's something new here every day," she said. "Someday, I guess, I'll retire. But it just doesn't feel right. I have diversity goals I want to achieve. I have young engineers who I want to see develop. I have international projects I'm involved in. So, I have a lot of interesting things going on. I don't feel retiring."