REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (July 5, 2023) – For Erica Jones, a recent phone call from her former supervisor at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center initially prompted that universal concern, “What’s happened?”
She need not worry -- it was good news. Great news, even. He was calling to inform Jones that she had won the Women of Color STEM Technology All Star award. Jones will receive the award at the 2023 Women of Color STEM DTX Conference, to be held in October 2023.
The best part was that it was a complete surprise – Jones did not know that her former supervisor Eli Varga had nominated her for the recognition. Varga said that Jones represents the epitome of professionalism and leadership across the engineering workforce and as a woman of color in a male-dominant engineering career field, she more than deserved the accolade.
“Her technical achievements and mentorship to the younger generation of STEM – or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – students has established her as an invaluable contributor to the success of the U.S. Army, as well as the success of countless numbers of inspired youth who look up to her achievements and strive to have the same success,” said Varga, Software, Simulation, Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate Cyber Technologies division chief.
Jones, a Huntsville native, is a longtime member of the formation, joining in September of 2001 – possibly one of the most fraught times in history to join an Army organization. She had spent three years at Boeing, after obtaining undergraduate and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. But the threat facing nation – and the increased security measures at the time – did not deter her career choice.
“It was two weeks after 9/11,” Jones remembered. “I wanted more hands-on experience; I would be working in the lab for the Kiowa Warrior, doing testing and software development.”
In a career that has spanned two decades since, Jones has held several positions within S3I and its precursor, the Software Engineering Directorate. She most recently served as the branch chief for lifecycle cyber engineering in the Cyber Technology Division. Earlier this year, she started a role within the Center’s Protective Technology Division working for Army Senior Research Scientist Dr. Donna Joyce.
Protective technology focuses on securing capabilities, without interfering with their function – protecting Army tech edge and lethality while providing and maintaining overmatch. It is a new role using old skills, mainly her “Double E,” or electrical engineering, degrees after segueing into computer science for most of her career.
“I think it's good to challenge yourself your career even when you're old like me,” Jones said with a laugh. “It's challenging but I'm learning a lot. And I have a lot more to learn.”
For Jones, who places a strong importance on mentoring young persons and serves on the Advisory Board for the University of South Alabama School of Computing, her advice to that next generation is that the world is very different than when she was a high schooler, poring over the Peterson’s Guide to Four-Year Colleges and planning her own future.
“There is so much information available now -- take advantage of that information and use it to find what you really want to do. And when you find that, never stop learning technically and don’t neglect soft skills -- leadership and communication skills. Technical skills will make you one of the smartest people in the room, but soft skills can make or break a team.”
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.