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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Avionics Magazine Honors Women in Technology

By Woodrow Bellamy III

The avionics industry honored the career accomplishments of female aerospace professionals at the Avionics Magazine Women in Technology Awards luncheon in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

The awards highlighted women who have risen to the top ranks within the aerospace industry. Throughout their careers, the women have had significant impacts on a vast array of technologies, including unmanned systems, GPS, radar technologies, synthetic vision systems, satellite systems and next-generation cockpit displays. Collectively, they have held positions with Boeing, NASA, ARINC, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins, and more. The women have forged a new path for their colleagues that come behind them. Additionally, the awards showcased the work of corporations that are doing their part to promote and cultivate female engineering talent.

Nan Mattai, senior vice president of engineering and technology at Rockwell Collins, was named Woman of the Year. Mattai, the highest ranking female executive at the company, manages the company's global engineering workforce of 8,000 professionals. In her acceptance speech, Mattai gave credit to her co-workers and family for her career success.

“As I look back on my career, I think it would not have been possible without the support of my family and my co-workers,” said Mattai. “My husband, who I met in high school, has been there for me through the years. And I can honestly say he keeps me grounded. I have two sons, and together they have helped me figure it out, work-life balance.”

Jean Valentine, program manager, radar systems of General Atomics, Claire Leon, vice president, national programs from Boeing and Christine Haissig, technology fellow from Honeywell were named finalists for the Woman of the Year award. Patricia Ververs, technology fellow at Honeywell, was awarded the Emerging Leader honor. Bingen, Wash.-based Insitu, which manufacturers unmanned aircraft systems, received the Corporate Leader award.

The panel discussion among the honorees on Monday addressed many of the challenges the women have faced during their careers. When many of them entered the industry, they said they were only one of a few women in engineering ranks. Valentine said she was the only female in her graduating engineering class. But the women said they were lured to the industry by the potential to have a real impact on technologies that improve aviation safety.

"I didn't know what I didn't know, I didn't know that I was probably hired because of affirmative action, and I didn't know that you didn't go to your boss's boss's boss and complain about your assignment ... I had lots of people telling me I could, and certainly there were a few people who told me I couldn't, but I think that they had just such low credibility that I was able to just ignore them. But I do think that awards like this do help to highlight women's accomplishments and will hopefully help other people to pursue engineering," Leon said. "I think engineering is such a great career. It's more than a career; we build things that make a difference to the world, and we need more people to join the field. So by awards like this hopefully will inspire more women and minorities to join the field."

All of the women expressed a passion for recruiting more women in the field of aerospace; many of the women serve as mentors to younger professionals to encourage engagement from the next generation of aerospace professionals.

“They just need the opportunity to marry the engineering side of things with the interest side of things, and we need to help build those bridges and show them the cool things that we all get to do in our jobs and show them that’s where you go if you do well in science, math and engineering,” said Ververs.

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