Director of Communications
Truth is, I became a writer because in high school, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I still don’t know. But I figured that, while I couldn’t commit to being a doctor or teacher for the rest of my life, I could write about doctors and teachers and cars and housework…oh, how the list goes on…and, OK, so Watergate was really big at the time.
But then, life happened. I met my husband during my first week at Marquette University and we married five years later. In 1983, we had our first of two sons, and I was fortunate enough to be able to be a stay-at-home mom. In 1992, I answered a classified ad for a publication assistant at AFCEA. I’d been out of the work force for nine years, and a “little thing” called personal computers had the nerve to move into offices while I wasn’t looking. But I couldn’t have landed in a better place. Rob Robinson, SIGNAL’s editor in chief at the time, allowed me to write for SIGNAL Magazine from time to time…and I learned. Since then, I’ve worked on a Mac at the office and a PC at home. I’ve had the opportunity to write about artificial intelligence, UAVs, satellites…oh how the list goes on.
Sometimes, people are impressed when I tell them I’m a journalist. I explain that, like most people, I hate to write…I like to have written. What I do enjoy is interviewing people who are passionate about what they do. And there are no more dedicated people in this world than members of the military.
My Recent Content:Part Inspiration, Part Determination
I was walking our two dogs listening to a “Stuff Mom Never Told You” podcast when the women in STEM idea piqued my interest. The topic intrigued me mostly because I thought in 2016 the issue of gender in the workplace had been settled. In a way, I was right. Career options for women were no longer limited to teaching, nursing or the nunnery.
Those appeared to be my only options as a girl growing up on Chicago’s Southside in the late 19…well, let’s just say when I was starting my career as a journalist, the Equal Rights Amendment was making its way around the states for ratification. But as my career progressed, I saw more females in a variety of professional positions. So, a discussion about a dearth of women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields caught me by surprise.
Fortunately, I work at AFCEA, where promoting STEM education is of paramount importance. Bringing the topic to the attention to the membership team was all I had to do to get the ball rolling not only on investigating the topic but also doing something about it.
With the whole-hearted support of AFCEA’s President and CEO Lt. Gen. Bob Shea, USMC (Ret.), the idea snowballed from hosting the first all-female panel focusing on women in STEM at TechNet Augusta 2016 to a 10-part series on the SIGNAL website. Based on interviews with successful women in STEM professions, the articles took a closer look at how female military and industry leaders entered and then stuck with jobs that still are largely male dominated.
Others agreed that this was an important topic. The SIGNAL series recently won an APEX Award for Excellence, and what these women said about how they got to where they are illustrates their own determination and some insights into the work that must continue.
While reviewing the series, certain themes emerged. The most surprising was that all these women knew in their hearts that they were destined to work in STEM fields. Several, including Mylene Frances Lee and Maj. Gen. Sandra, Finan, USAF, started out in different fields, but technology called to them, and they chose to follow. Many were one of only a handful of women in their courses. They didn’t let it stop them.
Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski, USAF, who commands the U.S. Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, described her initiation into a male-dominated field. She said she never felt she didn’t belong in the STEM community, even when, as a freshman at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), her physics professor started every class with, “Gentlemen, this is what we will cover today.”
But it takes more than intuition and willpower to succeed in STEM fields today. These women look at the STEM work force and see the need to rethink the very institutions they experienced. Education is key, many said, and the nitty-gritty elements of science and technology must be introduced at the elementary school level. "There is this lost generation that didn't get STEM early enough," said Evetta-DiRee McGuire, a senior program manager at ManTech International Corporation.
Mentorship also is crucial both to encouraging women to enter technical fields and stay in them. Nearly all the interviewees had at least one senior adviser who wouldn’t let them give up. Today, all of them are doing the same for the female newbies in the field.
Although these women spoke about how STEM careers benefited them, one fascinating twist was their belief that closing the gender gap is important to the United States. Time and again they emphasized how addressing what is largely thought to be a societal issue is so much more.
Gen. Pawlikowski explained it this way: “Everywhere I go, I try to provide an environment that nurtures all kinds of diversity. Particularly in science and engineering, the diversity of thought that comes from having people from many different walks of life, from many different backgrounds, is a tremendous multiplier when it comes to problem solving.”
Rear Adm. Nancy Norton, USN, director of warfare integration and deputy director for Navy cybersecurity, agreed. “I don't want 100 people with one idea. I want 100 people with 100 ideas, and then we can figure out what the best ones are.”
Since that dog walk last year, I’ve had at least 100 ideas, some better than others. Bringing attention to supporting women in STEM was one of the better ones.
Has the gender gap shrunk since the 1970s? A bit. Be sure to read One Small Step Taken. One Giant Leap Needed. for a millennial perspective of this issue.
Unlike my colleague Maryann Lawlor, who was told she could be one of three things growing up–a teacher, a nurse or a nun–I was never told I could not do something because I was a girl. I never felt like I had to be quiet in class to get a good grade or let my older brother win video games to make him like me. I played soccer and swam on the swim team just like all the boys, and later was a lifeguard alongside many of them. I treated them as equals and felt respected in return. They were simply my friends.
Going to school was enjoyable. I was always a good student—honor roll, National Honor Society, advanced placement (AP) classes, the works. My parents, teachers and peers told me I could be anything and I truly believed them. But I was never encouraged to be a scientist or pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It was a bit outside my comfort zone.
I got A’s in English and later was heavily involved in the high school newspaper. Through all of grade school I struggled with science classes and had to work twice as hard to get B’s. But I was good at math and enjoyed it, making it as far as trigonometry in high school. I wish someone had pushed me to reach farther, to explore math and science more and get to a place outside of my comfort zone where the so-called “magic” happens.
It’s a double-edged sword when the next step is college. You want good grades to get into a top school and aren’t necessarily willing to take a risk on a more advanced science class you may or may not get an A in. You stick with what you are already excelling at but then you miss out on discovering something new you might want to study in undergrad. Plus no popular girl on the field hockey team was taking AP biology or talking about computer science.
In her interview for SIGNAL’s award-winning women in STEM series, Maj. Gen. Sandra Finan, USAF, deputy CIO for C4 and information infrastructure capabilities, echoes similar concerns. She stresses the importance of education and working to increase the popularity of STEM education—particularly among girls—as disciplines that are creative, relevant and fun. “We need to start attracting people at a very young age, which means we have to invest in mentoring and engagement programs where we get out as early as possible in elementary schools and get youngsters interested in the technology,” she says.
“More and more, we're not exposing our young children to all of that technology,” Gen. Finan shares. “When it comes time for them to make a choice, it never occurs to them to choose a hard technical field.”
Teachers and administrators must work at making STEM relevant in order to make it real, says Christine Royce, department chairperson and professor of teacher education at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. “We need to make science cool in the early grades and continue moving that mindset into the middle grades,” Royce says. “It's about engaging them and getting them to think in different ways. Sometimes, that's the teacher finding that little bit of information—a book, an activity, a video—that gives them something else to think about besides what's just done in class.”
As a young journalist who now covers science, technology and cybersecurity daily, I’m grateful for the writing skills I cultivated, but can’t help but think that it would have been rewarding and exciting to work in a STEM field. And after speaking with and reading about the women who work in these fields, I feel silly that I didn’t think I was good enough to be a scientist simply because those classes were a little harder. A teacher or mentor telling me it isn’t so scary and it can be fun would have been incredibly helpful. Perhaps then I would be the one being interviewed for my own cutting-edge technology instead of just writing about it.
Has the gender gap changed since the 1970s? A bit. Be sure to read Part Inspiration, Part Determination for a an older generation's perspective of this issue.
Nearly everyone has heard a parent or grandparent refer to the good ol’ days. Tales usually begin either with, “When I was your age…” or “In my day, we didn’t have….”
While it seems appropriate that octogenarians and nonagenarians tell such stories, today they’re not the only generations sharing memories that begin with, “When I was young….” People in their 20s and 30s reflect on their youth wistfully because members of the younger generation—who, by the way, are only five or 10 years younger than they are—can communicate, play, buy and sell, and share life moments in ways that surprise even 20-somethings.
Not that many years ago, as technological advances began snowballing, companies understood that if they didn’t change, they would succumb to the fate of buggy whip makers. For example, camera and film companies understood that when digital photography became affordable, the demand for their products would decrease, then disappear. Think Kodak.
Technology isn’t done transforming the world’s landscape. And so, a bit of reflection on five aspects of life today that may not exist as soon as 2020:
•Telephone booths. Already on the endangered list, these oddities used to be on every city block. Today? Not so much.
•Shopping. Each year, the number of consumers who spend Black Friday at their computers instead of in brick-and-mortar stores increases. And the Whole Foods and Amazon deal, as well as Internet of Things-enabled kitchen appliances, are putting a new spin on the meaning of “retail therapy.” Enjoy window-shopping while there’s still time.
•Health care office visits. Grandparents reminisce about doctors making house calls. Will their grandchildren remember doctors’ office visits with the same fondness?
•Manufacturing plants. Robots already have replaced humans on many assembly lines; however, a handful of humans are still needed to ensure the machinery runs smoothly. Artificial intelligence developments will change this landscape as machinery can fix itself. On the other hand, the future of shopping and shipping (see above) could mean a boom in box businesses. Future work force: Pay attention. Prepare.
•Military battlegrounds. Drones and robots are only the beginning. Nearly indestructible automatons controlled from thousands of miles away will replace warfighters. The stakes will change. Into what, it’s hard to tell.
The bottom line is that today’s military must prepare now to ensure that its strategies and tactics don’t go the way of the buggy whip while our adversaries are taking advantage of how technology has already changed battlefields. Battles in cyberspace threaten our emerging way of life, and it won’t be long before they endanger lives. Are we prepared? If cybersecurity isn’t the highest priority for the nation’s leaders, military and every citizen, we’re not.
AFCEA offers numerous ways to stay on top of this evolution revolution. Meet military and industry leaders in groups like the Cyber Committee. Stay current with The Cyber Edge—online, in print and through email. Keep certifications current at events that feature continuing education. Save money with discounts on hardware, software and events.
Protecting your computer, learning more about cyberthreats and joining the association are all intelligent ways to prepare for how technology will continue to change the world. At least you’ll be prepared.
Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning is a hot topic for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the agency isn’t letting conventional thinking stand in the way of finding innovative ideas. The upcoming Director’s 3rd Quarterly Industry Day is just one example. From planning to execution, the two-day event is designed to find new capabilities and business processes from the private sector and academia.
The agency begins the search by posting interests on NeedipeDIA. Robert Dixon, special adviser for innovation, DIA, relates that openness is key to finding new ideas. "It's not the size of the business that's important. It's the idea. We're casting the net wide to anyone who has the solutions that can help solve our problems. It could be someone working out of a garage someplace or it could be a large industry partner," Dixon says.
"NeedipeDIA is very open to anyone—the mom and pops, the garage innovators out there. If they have something that's relevant to our organization, we'll read their white papers, we'll evaluate them, and we’ll see where we go from there,” he adds.
The next step could be the DIA's collaborative Innovation Hub (iHUB) environment, where potential products can be created, tested and evaluated. Of the 32 white paper submissions for the DIA's last Industry Day, 20 were deemed worth a closer look as a demonstration in the iHUB.
The next industry day sessions take place August 2-3 at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C., and will focus on the topics in section 99 of NeedipeDIA. Some examples include the use of AI and machine learning tools for data collection, management and use, as well as machine learning that supports workflow automation activities.
Additional information and contact information for the upcoming industry day is available on FedBizOpps. Interested industry partners should send unclassified white papers to Ideas2Action@dodiis.mil and classified white papers to Ideas2Action@coe.ic.gov by July 18.
Innovators also may be interested in attending the Intelligence & National Security Summit, “The State of U.S. Intelligence: A Time of Transition, Challenge and Innovation.” The summit takes place September 6-7 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C. Register online.
Senior intelligence officials identified the increasing amount of data and how to handle it as the one of the largest challenges the intelligence community faces today. “We are collecting more data than we can effectively process,” said Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Lt. Gen Vincent Stewart, USMC. “What we process, we struggle to make sense of, and what we understand, we can’t effectively disseminate across a global enterprise to ensure it helps drive critical decision making.”
To address this issue, the DIA’s Innovation office will hold industry days in August. Companies will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas on artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality to DIA leaders.
Leaders from the civilian, military officer and enlisted sections as well as U.S. Defense Department and intelligence community recently met for discussions that looked beyond the DIA’s current no-fail mission areas—including Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and extremist organizations—to other possible threats and conflicts.
During the senior enlisted portion of the intelligence conferences, DIA Command Senior Enlisted Leader Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott Stalker, USMC, hosted fellow senior enlisted leaders and advisers from all military services and the U.S. Coast Guard. He addressed the full range of current and over-the-horizon threats.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Stalker also emphasized the importance of senior enlisted service members within the intelligence community saying, “You have a critically important role to play in preparing your organizations to deal with this world. …You must have moral courage—moral courage to tell your boss when he or she is wrong.”
The discussions took place at a conference the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) sponsored with a theme of “Intelligence Support in an Era of Persistent Threats.”