March is National Women’s History Month. Each year, The National Women’s History Project takes suggestions from supporters to develop a theme for the year’s events. After reviewing more than 100 submissions, this year, the organization selected the theme of:
Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination:
Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Throughout the month of March, we will be highlighting the contributions of some of our women working in technology fields, and getting their viewpoints on what National Women’s History Month means to them. This week, we are highlighting Susan Oakley, Technical Director for Remote Sensing in our Global Analysis business. Susan provides leadership and guidance on hyperspectral remote sensing platforms for an Intel customer, and supports new business planning and activities in the remote sensing and geospatial arenas.
- What inspired you to pursue a STEM career?
When I was studying French as an undergraduate, my father, an engineer, decided we needed to have a ‘sit down’ talk about my major and career goals. While classical language studies are incredibly interesting, he suggested that I consider pursuing a career in science or math. I ended up selecting geology. I had just aced the introductory course the semester prior, the instructor was inspirational, and I found the subject matter intriguing. Who doesn’t love studying rocks and dirt – especially from a satellite in outer space?
- Are there any women who inspired you along your career path? If so, who are they, and how did they inspire you?
In college, I was inspired by one of my professors, known as “Cass” to her students. Cass was a world-renowned volcanologist who really enjoyed pushing students outside their comfort zone. As a senior, she convinced me to apply for a NASA scholarship to study, identify, and map minerals in the California desert using airborne imaging sensors. At first, I thought this was going to be a little more work than I wanted -- especially since the beach was just a five minute drive from campus. But, I submitted a proposal thinking it was long-shot. Not only did I receive the scholarship and complete the study, it set me up perfectly for my first job in R&D in the oil and gas sector as a remote sensing researcher. I loved that Cass pushed me (after the fact of course!), while offering support and suggestions when necessary. I credit Cass’s push with opening doors for me, which helped me gain valuable experience and professional development.
I’ve been lucky to work with several inspiring women in my career. It’s exciting to work with women who are strong; know what they want to accomplish; and know how to get things done, all while taking best business practices into account.
- What does National Women’s History Month mean to you?
National Women’s History Month is a time to recognize, thank, and appreciate the women who have worked diligently, sometimes against the odds, to make significant contributions in history, culture, and society. I also think this is a time to reflect on our own experiences and come up with ideas to inspire future STEM leaders in our industry and community.
- How do you hope to inspire other Women considering STEM careers?
We need more women leaders in STEM today! We have some brilliant female minds in STEM, but we need to develop clever ways to offer these women the requisite skills to be successful and effective in leadership positions, while keeping their technical skills sharp. These women have a great deal of potential to guide the future of research and technology and we need them as future mentors and leaders.
Personally, I seek to inspire others through informal mentorship. I particularly enjoy working with graduate students, or those just entering the work force. Through the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, I have met a number of students that I keep in contact with. I periodically offer career and educational advice, and offer introductions to others within the community so the students can expand their professional network. Cass taught me it’s important for leaders to invest their time to help young professionals that are eager to learn. Leaders can help open doors; but it’s ultimately up to the individual to make the most of their opportunities.
The U.S. Government first recognized March as National Women’s History Month in 1987. For more on the history of the declaration, and to celebrate the many contributions women have made throughout history, visit http://womenshistorymonth.gov/.