Friday, March 23, 2012

ECBC Women in Science and Engineering Series, Part Five: Azra Malik

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 fifth blog in this sereis features Azra Malik, a Computer Scientist within ECBC's Advanced Design and Manufacturing Division.

Growing up in a family that mainly went into the medical profession, I developed a similar need to help people.  However, I knew early on that medical discussions at the dinner table bored me and I needed to do something that interested me.  Before going to college, I had always helped people that had problems with computers, as it was very easy and enjoyable for me.  So as I enrolled in college, I took an entry level computer science class that I really liked.  I found the programming to be logical and enjoyable which led me to continue taking computer science courses.  Eventually I declared it as my major and suddenly found myself graduating as one of three females with a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) in Computer Science. 
As I was completing my education, I had an opportunity to interview at Aberdeen Proving Grounds (APG), Md.  I had several other opportunities, but because I am a patriotic person, I felt this was a chance to help the nation and the Army.  Through the work that I would be doing at APG, it felt right to join a workforce supporting and helping to protect the Warfighter. 
Upon joining the Department of Defense (DoD) workforce, I began utilizing my programming skills to help support the reliability teams at the Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity (AMSAA).  Being one of only two computer scientists in the branch, I quickly became an expert in developing executable programs to support various reliability growth models. 
Still driven to help more, I volunteered as co-chair of the Aberdeen Middle School mentoring program, that encourages sixth through eighth graders to pursue math and science courses and education in high school and college.  The program teaches the workforce of tomorrow critical concepts through innovative and enjoyable ways such as trivia, competitions, field trips, and science projects.  This was my opportunity to show kids the exciting opportunities math and science provide, and to be a role model for young women in particular.
Working for the DoD has been a truly rewarding experience.  Initially, I wasn’t certain I was making a difference, but after spending 14 weeks in a class with a combination of military and civilian analysts, I learned that the Warfighters understand and appreciate the work I was doing. 
Later, I left AMSAA and I joined the Advanced Design and Manufacturing (ADM) Division at the Edgewood, Chemical and Biological Center (ECBC).  Once again, I was one of two computer scientists in the division.  At the Center, I have been working with professionals from many backgrounds – artists, animators, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, prototype engineers, and engineering technicians, to name a few.  It is very enriching to work with professionals with so many different ideas.  Here, I am able to see the direct impact I always yearned for – a product that I programmed being directly delivered into the Warfighter’s hands – men and women alike.
Throughout my career, though I have always worked in male-centric fields, fortunately, I have never had any instances where I have faced any challenges based on my gender.  I believe that this has to do with the confidence I have in the work I do.  I have always been able to stand behind my work, because it is mathematically accurate and professional, a combination that works in any environment.  The Army is just this type of environment, composed of military and civilian personnel, men and women, working together to defend this nation.  I simply feel honored to be able to say that I am a part of that. 

Azra Malik is a Computer Scientist in the Advanced Design and Manufacturing Division. She obtained a Bachelor of Science from Loyola College and a Masters of Science from Johns Hopkins University. Currently, Azra is doing a rotational detail as ADM's Executive Officer.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, Department of the Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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