Retired Capt. Janet Lomax, military outreach coordinator for Senator Tim Kaine; Cmdr. Kathryn Wijnaldum, commanding officer, USS Oak Hill (LSD 51); and Cmdr. Kimberly Jones, commanding officer, USS Tortuga (LSD 46), served as panelists for the week-long camp when it kicked off on July 26.
The camp was conducted virtually for the second year in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a brief welcome and opening remarks, each panelist spoke to camp participants about how they got involved in their respective roles and how it relates to STEM. The panelists then answered questions from participants about advice, inspiration and role models.
When speaking about her own role models, Wijnaldum pointed out the importance a parent, or grandparent, can have in a child’s development.
“My grandmother was a teacher who was dedicated to serving, and my mother was an attorney; both showed me there was no limit,” said Wijnaldum. “If I had a goal or a dream, they taught me to just pursue it and the rest would follow. Even if you were afraid, and you were the only person who thought you could do that thing, you could use that as leverage to help you be successful.”
Jones talked about how she got familiar with different STEM career fields by working internships in the petroleum industry and aeronautical engineering field. However, her future with the military didn’t become clear until the day she received a Navy recruiting flyer in the mail.
“It said come join the Navy's nuclear program, and I said, ‘you know what, this seems even cooler; I could serve on a ship, I could do engineering, and my desk doesn't stay in the same place. How cool is that?’” said Jones. “In fact, when I told my parents I was thinking about joining the military, it was quite a surprise, as I was the last person that anyone in my family thought would join the military. However, it has been an amazing 20 years. No day is the same and that's something that just keeps me going forward every day.”
Regarding advice they would give to potential next generation female leaders, Lomax recommended to the girls not to focus on their gender as much as what it takes for someone of any gender to be successful.
“It's not about being male or female as a leader, it's about stepping up and actually being a leader,” said Lomax. “I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone to the forefront of whatever it is you are passionate about. Then when you are given the opportunity to be in charge, or to take the first step in a project or in a team, just go ahead and do it. As a result, you will give yourself the know-how and encouragement to step into the unknown and come out of it a better person because of the things you're going to learn.”
From the perspective of Amber Allen, a NIWC Atlantic STEM volunteer who served as panel moderator, the impact of the panel of female Navy leaders reached beyond the student participants.
“It was truly an honor to participate in moderating the event! The questions asked by the girls were fantastic, and hearing the panelists’ stories and backgrounds was inspiring,” said Allen. “To know we’re playing a part in shaping the future of STEM is truly humbling. It’s awesome that the future generation of STEM girls have such great role models.”
Allen wasn’t alone in her excitement about participating in the panel event, it was also shared by event coordinators in Charleston and Hampton Roads.
“Our panelists were truly an inspiration, and I can’t tell you how pleased I was to have such tremendous role models speak to the campers,” said Kelly Thompson, NIWC Atlantic’s STEM co-director. “Not only did the girls in attendance learn from the session, but so did I. I like to think that as long as you are living, you are learning.”
“It was great to be part of the team that made this happen!” said Shawn Frazier, STEM collaboration lead for NIWC Atlantic’s Hampton Roads detachment. “After hearing the distinguished panelists share their journeys, I feel our efforts with this event have really helped motivate us [NIWC Atlantic’s STEM Outreach team] to continue looking for real life examples to inspire the next generation of young female STEM advocates.”
The panelists pointed out that attending a STEM camp was a turning point in their lives and led them to choosing a career in STEM.
“I am excited for young women who are participating in the NIWC Atlantic virtual STEM camp because I remember how the exposure to a Navy-sponsored STEM camp made such an impactful and positive difference in my life,” said Wijnaldum. “My hope and prayer for all who attend is that when future STEM opportunities cross their path, they remember our stories and consider taking a leap of faith to pursue the STEM challenge.”
As a part of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, NIWC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment, and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, cyber and information technology capabilities.
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