Wanda Austin - Aerospace Corporation
President and CEO
Dr. Wanda M. Austin is president and chief executive officer of The Aerospace Corporation, a leading architect for the nation’s national security space programs. She assumed this position on January 1, 2008. The Aerospace Corporation has nearly 4,000 employees and annual revenues of more than $850 million. Austin earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Franklin & Marshall College, master’s degrees in systems engineering and mathematics from the University of Pittsburgh, and a doctorate in systems engineering from the University of Southern California. Austin was among the first CEOs to support Change the Equation.
Why do you believe STEM Education and Workforce are important to our nation?
Our society is dependent on science and engineering; it’s virtually impossible to be successful in today’s world without relying on technology in some form. It is widely acknowledged that the majority of jobs in the future will be technology-based. For over a decade, the number of students studying the STEM disciplines has been declining in our country. If this continues, the United States will find itself unable to maintain or advance its own technological systems, or to compete effectively on the world stage.
What traits do senior leaders need to effectively support and advance STEM today?
We have to be open to new ideas – not just the ideas themselves, but where they come from. There is a tendency to dismiss ideas that come from young people, due to their inexperience. However, it has always been true that young minds are a fertile ground for new ideas. Today’s leaders need to be ready and willing to reach out to our young people, to let them know we value their insight and input.
We also have to learn to look beyond “today.” Leaders today can become too focused on the problems immediately facing them. That’s understandable; those problems are formidable and need to be solved quickly. But we have to bear in mind that even as we solve problems today there will always be new challenges. So it’s essential that we ensure that there will be well-trained experts around in the future to address them.
What can we do to assure more women leaders in STEM?
Young girls do just as well as young boys in science and math, but around about the fourth and fifth grades, girls seem to lose interest in those subjects. We must proactively get involved as early as possible with the schools, the students, the parents, and the teachers, to counteract the messages those girls are hearing that math and science are “boys’ subjects.” We need to encourage successful women science and engineering experts to remember the obstacles they faced, and to take positive action to ensure that the next generation of girls know that they can succeed in the STEM fields – and perhaps make the path a bit easier for them.
How is your company innovating to promote STEM?
The Aerospace Corporation has a number of programs in place that promote STEM, both our own, “home-grown” programs and in cooperation with local and national efforts. There is the Herndon Science Competition, named for one of our distinguished scientists and mentors. This competition offers diverse middle- and high-school students the opportunity to create innovative science projects and bring them to our campus, where our scientists, engineers, and Air Force customers judge them. Winners receive savings bonds, which we hope they will use toward education. We’ve also teamed with Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education, MathCounts, US FIRST Robotics, Change the Equation, and our own Great-LEAP (Greater Los Angeles Education-Aerospace Partnership), which pairs our scientists and engineers with local teachers right in the classroom, to demonstrate real-world applications of science and engineering to the students.