Laura Stubbs - Department of Defense
Director, Science and Technology Initiatives
Dr. Laura Stubbs was appointed as the Director, Science and Technology Initiatives in December, 2011. Her prior appointment was as the Director, Requirements and Strategic Integration (RSI), effective July, 2010. Both appointments are in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Prior roles included Chief Learning Officer and technical Branch Head at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division. Dr. Stubbs has over 25 years of military, private and public sector experience in Technology Transfer, Quality and Supply Chain Management. She entered the U.S. Navy as the first African-American Naval Nuclear Power School instructor. She left active duty and continued in the Navy Reserve where she retired as a Captain.
What can we do to assure more women leaders in STEM?
Exposure of the first Law of Learning! The more exposure that women receive throughout their educational experience and work life, the more seeds will be planted that will help position women to accept future opportunities in leadership positions.
I am the beneficiary of a “Women in Engineering” program effort that started over 35 years ago. I had the opportunity to attend such a program at a mid-western university. This was a big deal for me because prior to the summer program, I never contemplated what it would meant to become an engineer let along practice as an engineer. I had my heart set of becoming a fashion model.
I attended an all girls high school. At the end of my junior year, my math teacher announced that the University of Notre Dame would hold an 8-week "Women in Engineering" course over the coming summer. My classmates and I joked that engineers drive trains but I took the brochure home. My mother, a teacher, said, "Great! You're going!" That summer, I was exposed to a sampling of various engineering majors – chemical, mechanical, industrial. We also earned college credit for the course. I returned to my school and declared that I would be an engineer. My classmates laughed saying that I was neither the smartest in the class nor did I have the best grades. I grew determined to not only become an engineer but excel. The summer program included a review of math, chemistry and physics fundamentals, etc. The program provided me with a huge advantage over my classmates because I was exposed to the engineering curriculum and, more importantly, exposed to what would be required of me in order to succeed. I immediately know that, “I can do this.”
It is often said that luck is where opportunity meets preparation. Exposure is a close associate of that concept. The more encouragement and exposure one receives, the more confident and successful they can become. That success is sometimes viewed as lucky because there are elements of timing, sponsorship, etc. but the preparation has played a large part in that success.
Our goal as technical professionals is to provide experiences to our younger generations, including our young ladies; mentor them throughout their careers, create an environment where it is OK to fail and recover and encourage them to assist others along the way.
Who is your STEM role model and why?
My STEM role models are too numerous to name. I was fortunate to have role model like my former Dean and the former Deputy at NSF, Dr. Joseph Bordogna, who is never too busy to return an email or phone call from the other side of the world to answer a query or respond to my concerns. I was fortunate to have a role model in Ms. Cora Ingrum, Director of Multicultural Program at the University of Pennsylvania and a 1997 recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. Ms. Ingrum is still at Penn providing counsel and direction to countless students AND faculty far reaching to other programs.
There was Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the father of the Nuclear Navy, who selected me to teach at the Naval Nuclear Power School. Other professors from my alma mater, Drs. Jacob Abel and Ira Cohen, both deceased who were both tough but fair and who demanded my best in the classroom—no excuses, just the excellence. I was fortunate to have role models like the technician who I worked with during my summer internship at a local utility. He taught me that it is the intangibles like positive work relationships in additional to the technical competency that will help me to be successful at work. I follow that guidance, The Golden Rule, in my interactions with people—treating people as I would like to be treated.
What is your concept of mentoring and sponsorship of others for STEM careers?
My concept of mentoring and is continuing the legacy of my mentors and role models—their model was to lead by example, transfer the knowledge, keep hands on for a short period, then let us fly, and lend an ear, hand or give advice whenever needed. Sponsorship is advocacy for individuals who may or may not have the chance but for the good word of a sponsor. Sponsorship is actually opening the doors, in an active way, to open opportunities.