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STEM at Redstone

From her father’s viewpoint, there were four careers open to females: housewife, nurse, teacher or secretary. She had no aspirations for teaching and didn’t want to get married right away. Not interested in the blood and grittiness of nursing, that left her only one choice, but she opted to aim high, aspiring to be an executive secretary.

If not for her high school counselor, who saw a strength in math and science and encouraged her to consider engineering, Dr. Juanita M. Christensen may not be where she is today – the equivalent of a two-star general and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center executive director.

“In the STEM field, because we work in a pretty much male-dominated environment, if you want to be considered, you have to be willing to throw your hat in the ring,” Christensen said. “One of my bosses told me one time, ‘The only way that leaders know you want to be considered for a position is you have to apply for it.’ They don’t know that you’re thinking about it. So many times, we think, ‘That job’s not for me. I can’t do it.’ Let the process kick you out. Don’t you kick yourself out. Be willing to throw your hat in the ring.”

U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center Executive Director Dr. Juanita M. Christensen chats with Huntsville High School junior Olivia Cole, 17, after the HudsonAlpha Foundation’s Women in STEM event Feb. 27 at the Jackson Center in Huntsville, Ala. | Photo By Amy Tolson

It was an evening of candid and motivational stories at the HudsonAlpha Foundation’s Women in STEM event at the Jackson Center in Huntsville, Feb. 27. Panelists shared with more than 150 attendees how they overcame adversity to excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In addition to Christensen, the panel included Dr. Aruna Arora, Neurology Consultants of Huntsville; Dr. Jane Grimwood, HudsonAlpha faculty investigator; Janette Hostettler, vice president of production at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing; Jody Singer, director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center; Irma Tuder, founder and CEO of Analytical Services, Inc.; and Peri Widener, retired vice president of GM Boeing Global Services.

“We’re really here because we’re trying to celebrate and inspire women, to empower them,” said panel moderator Clarissa McClain.

Christensen told her story of how she went from an East St. Louis high school student who thought her guidance counselor was talking about driving a train when she mentioned engineering, to leading an organization that plays a critical role in two of the Army’s six modernization priorities – Future Vertical Lift and Air & Missile Defense. She spent a bulk of her career in industry before becoming a government civilian in 2007. Overseeing a workforce that’s over 11,000 strong, Christensen carries out the vision of CCDC AvMC, which is to be a Warfighter-focused valued team of world leaders in aviation and missile technologies and life cycle engineering.

“You have to be resilient in all that you do,” Christensen said. “Learn from every mistake and every success that you have, you will gain something from each of those. You must be willing to speak up and take risks. That is critical. You have to be able to build partnerships and build teams; that is so very important in the world and the community that we live in.”

The panelists offered a wide array of advice to the young women in attendance, such as being an active listener, finding a career they’re passionate about, not being afraid to ask for help, building relationships and taking advantage of mentoring.

“Find your own recipe,” Singer advised. “All of us have stories as to how we got to where we got to. A lot of it is passion and perseverance that really gets you there.”

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The CCDC Aviation & Missile Center, formerly known as the Aviation & Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, which conducts responsive research, development and life cycle engineering to deliver the aviation and missile capabilities the Army depends on to ensure victory on the battlefield today and tomorrow. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation's wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.