Path of women becoming an engineer has never been easy
March 20, 2013
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Four women working within U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command gave valuable insight into their struggles and triumphs of achieving success in one of the following disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, during the 2013 Women's History Month observance on March 14.
This event took place in the training rooms of SMDC/ARSTRAT Operations headquarters Building 3 before a group of women and men. Robert Howard, SMDC/ARSTRAT Operations Equal Employment Opportunity manager, opened the lunch-time program stating that this year's theme was 'Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.'
After opening remarks, four women within the command locally (three contractors and one government civilian) addressed the audience giving a retrospect of how they achieved their current job position.
"Today, women are earning about 17 percent to 18 percent of the bachelor's degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said Joan E. Rousseau, tactical space operation course manager, SMDC, Future Warfare Center, Directorate of Training and Doctrine, Space Training Division.
"Where are the women? They are going into the career fields of physical science. Fifty-eight percent are earning master's, bachelor's, and doctorate's in biology. With exception very few of those women are making the amount of pay as their male counterparts. You are seeing more and more women with STEM backgrounds in the military basically because it is equal pay for equal work. We still don't make the same amount in the civilian sector outside of government service as our male counterparts."
"The point I'm trying to get across here is that we run the gamut within our organization. Within Space and Missile Defense Command not everybody you meet is going to be an engineer. You are going to meet a mix. You take the people with the skills and knowledge and the ability to learn and you place them where they can be most effective."
Mary Spohn, a contractor software engineer with Quantum on task to the SMDC Battle Lab, highlighted her top 10 rules -- lessons she has learned in her life.
"Rule number six: never stop learning," said Spohn. "Science and technology move extremely quickly. You really cannot stop getting qualified, taking classes, and keeping up with what is going on. It is an on-going process in the technology core field."
Her number three lesson was to act with integrity.
"Always be honest and always be professional. In this environment, it is easy to do because in this military environment people are extremely professional. I've worked a lot in the commercial world as well and it is not always like that. I want to emphasize that people do notice when you do your best and you act on your best behavior."
Spohn closed her remarks with her number one rule of supporting other women.
"We are all here together. We are all here struggling against the same challenges," Spohn said. "One thing I try to do is be supportive of the other women around me."
According to Jessica H. Schafer, a contractor systems engineer with Femme Comp Inc., SMDC G-6 Satellite Communications Division, the path of a woman becoming an engineer "has never been easy."
"I have enjoyed overcoming some challenges. But I've also struggled in confronting some other challenges along the way," Schafer said. "My dad was my inspiration in becoming an aerospace engineer. Looking back I wish he would have prepared me for the vast gender imbalance of engineers, but he didn't.
"My hope is that my generation of female engineers becomes the new mentors for the next generation and that our struggles do not become their struggles," she continued. "I hope that opportunity is there regardless of gender and will leave no young or new female scientists, mathmetician, or engineer in the dark about the amazing magnitude of opportunity available to her."
The last woman to speak was Noemi "Amy" R. Wikstrom, system engineer, Femme Comp Inc., SMDC G-6 SATCOM Division, who said, "I believe that we have to seize the opportunity to make a difference, to encourage, to inspire, to foster science and mathematics to our children, regardless of gender.
"It is our responsibility to leave behind cultural bias and give them the opportunity to strive," Wikstrom continued. "I encourage anyone who will listen to never settle, to reach inside, and to move forward. Nothing that is worth having in this life is easy, but when you get it -- man it feels great!"