Friday, March 18, 2011

Women's History Month Blog Series (Part 3)

In recognition of Women's History Month, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) presents a special blog series featuring candid responses from female ECBC employees and leaders on their experiences as females in the science and engineering fields. The third part in this blog series features Amanda Dubbs, a biologist for the ECBC Department of Program Integration (DPI), Carol Eason, Acting Director of Safety and Acting Deputy Director for Chemical Biological Integration, and Jennifer Iskra, an engineer at ECBC working on her Masters in Business Administration. Check back throughout the month of March for the continuation of this series.

Amanda Dubbs
As a little girl growing up I was into all of the “girlie” things – painting my nails, making bracelets, having my hair braided, playing “mommy” with my Cabbage Patch dolls, and twirling baton.  As a member of the high school graduating class of the millennium in 2000, my elementary school videotaped us in kindergarten about our career aspirations. Several years later they played it back for us at our high school graduation. According to my five or six-year-old self, I wanted to be a babysitter. My how things have changed. 

In elementary school, I always excelled in the math and science subjects, but it was not until middle school that I realized I wanted to pursue a career in a science field. My early career aspiration was to become a marine biologist. This quickly changed when I realized how much they were paid. I had a wonderful mentor in high school, my chemistry teacher, who helped me realize that I wanted to continue my education in the fields of biology and chemistry. It struck me right away that I would be a minority in this endeavor when I walked into my first freshman chemistry lab in college and realized I was one of two women in the class.  Despite the realization that I would likely be a minority throughout my studies and my career, my determination to be successful never wavered.
I chose to work for the Department of Army because the job as a biologist sounded very interesting and cutting edge. I would have the opportunity to work for a greater cause and be on the forefront of science in many ways. ECBC recruited me directly from Penn State. After interviewing with the deputy director, I realized that the mission of protecting the warfighter was one that I wanted to embrace. I would be lying if I said the paid federal holidays and reimbursement for continuing education didn’t factor into my decision-making process to join the ECBC team.  I can honestly say that choosing ECBC was one of the best decisions I have made. I feel fulfilled and successful in my career, and am fortunate to be able to call my colleagues my friends.

Amanda Dubbs is currently a biologist for the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center’s (ECBC) Department of Program Integration (DPI). She has been working at ECBC for over six years. She graduated from Penn State University and received her Masters of Science from John Hopkins University.

Carol Eason
I do believe the education and occupational attainment gap between men and women has narrowed because I can see it all around me! We know that more women are entering college and studying science and engineering (S&E). We can look at our young workforce and see how many women we have in S&E to see this validated. When I started in the mid-1980s I was almost always the only woman in a meeting and now it is rare to be the only female. It is very nice to see the diversity because there is great strength in diversity.

One of the primary challenges I’ve noted, is the challenge to be seen as the expert or lead in a certain area. I have had numerous experiences sitting in a high-level meeting and having the men speak to and look at my boss (who is male) even though I am answering all of the questions. You can sit there and be angry over how wrong that is, or you can figure out how to work around it and get what you want and need. My solution to this situation was to point out what was happening so that my leadership could recognize it when it occurred, and we could work together to change the flow of the follow-on meetings. I see less and less of this happening externally and can say it hasn't happened very often internally. My experience and personal observation shows this to be a generational issue so I expect this to continue to change. You have to learn to adapt and be creative in solving problems and not take anything personal – it really isn't personal!

This is my advice for females in the Department of Defense who aspire to grow into leadership positions: you have to know you really want it and everything that comes with the responsibility of the position. That will probably mean personal sacrifice, requiring that each of us know where "our line" is as we make those sacrifices. When you really look inside yourself and are honest, and you still want whatever level you aspire to, then plan out (on paper) what you need to do to get there. This involves more than which jobs you should take. It means working relationships, having mentors to guide you and figuring out how to still be able to disengage and have a personal life. If it is truly what you want and you have things mapped out, absolutely go for it!

Carol Eason serves as the Acting Deputy Director for Chemical Biological Integration and Acting ECBC Safety Director. In her current role, she employs leadership skills and knowledge of the diverse ECBC research and development mission to lead a team of professionals that are responsible for the Human Resources, Logistics, Information Services, Chemical Agent Certification, and Quality programs at ECBC. She is directly responsible for working all personnel and resource management programs for the directorate, as well as providing oversight and leadership to the Directorate of Program Integration Financial Team.

Jennifer Iskra 
Math and science were my favorite subjects in school since I was young. I always enjoyed problem solving and knew that engineering was the right path for me as I entered college. While attending the University of Delaware (UD), I was able to see many of the partnerships between ECBC and UD, especially in areas of research and development. Through these exposures, I was also able to learn more about the work completed by the Department of the Army. Upon graduation, I knew I wanted to use my degree in a way that would benefit others. Working for ECBC was the perfect way for me to use my education to make a difference in the protection of the warfighter and expand my knowledge of science and engineering in a state-of-the-art facility designed for research in scientific fields.
I think the largest challenge to women in science and engineering is overcoming the distorted ratio of men to women in these fields. Walking into classes where females represented only ten percent of the students was a surprise to me, and something I was not prepared for. I had to learn quickly how to interact as the only female on a team for class projects or in laboratory groups. These experiences made me learn how to interact with many different types of people and better prepared me for future teamwork.

I think that women in science and engineering today have a lot of opportunities in different areas. I would encourage the students in these fields to explore these different areas through the avenues that are available to them, whether that is through classes, research, or academic clubs. By exploring the different areas available, they will be able to find an area of work they are passionate about and will be able to look in those areas for employment.

I also recommend that students find a female mentor in a science and technology field. Having a mentor allowed me the ability to talk to someone who has been through the same challenges in academia and industry. Being able to talk to someone who had similar experiences to mine was very beneficial.  My mentor was able to provide advice on coursework, research and future work. Without her, I may not have been as successful as I am now, so I encourage all young females in science and technology fields to find a female mentor that is willing and able to invest time into helping them succeed. 

Before joining the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) workforce as an engineer in Fall 2010, Jennifer began work as a Mechanical Engineer for the Joint Program Manager for Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Contamination Avoidance (JPM NBC CA). She obtained my Bachelors of Mechanical Engineering in June 2010 from the University of Delaware (UD) and she is currently a part time student at the UD working towards a Masters in Business Administration while working for the Department of the Army.

The content in this blog entry does not represent the views or beliefs of ECBC, its employees, its management or the federal government.

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