One of the many professional STEM events that features consistent representation from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, is the annual Black Engineer of the Year Award STEM Conference in Washington, D.C.
While the virtual setup of the event will contrast the normal routine of the weekend, the command’s presence remains a constant. Included in BEYA’s group of 2020 awardees will be Diedre Gilmer, the division head for Carderock’s Electromagnetic Signatures Technology Division. The 20-year Naval Sea Systems Command veteran was named a Science Spectrum Trailblazer and will be honored during the conference’s Technology Recognition Event on February 12.
“I was a little surprised,” Gilmer said. “I know I have an important ability that I fill, and I’m dedicated to the job I do. I’m not working for outside acknowledgement of my efforts, but it’s always nice to get.”
Ever since her career began in 1990, Gilmer has been in many environments where she was the only African-American, woman, or both, in the room. In fact, Gilmer was finding her way as a trailblazer well before BEYA bestowed the title upon her.
She swiftly made a name for herself as a top performer in Carderock’s Signatures Department shortly after joining the command in 2000. Ten years later, Gilmer took on her first major leadership role for NAVSEA at the Washington Navy Yard as the Systems Integration Team Lead for the NAVSEA Program Executive Office Submarines. When she returned to Carderock in 2015 to take the branch head position in the Structural Acoustics and Target Strength Branch, this would also mark the first time an African-American woman was selected to serve as a branch head within the Signatures Department.
Dr. Matthew Craun, a Distinguished Scientist for Acoustic Signature Management Technologies at Carderock, spoke highly of Gilmer in a recommendation letter to BEYA on her behalf. Craun first met Gilmer 18 years ago, and was instantly impressed with her ability to exceed the expectations for projects on the Virginia- and Columbia-class programs. He credited her with being an instrumental player in forming and maintaining inter-agency cooperation among the Navy’s submarine stakeholders. Seeing her become a branch head six years ago was a moment that did not surprise him given her career’s upward trajectory within the signatures space.
“It was fulfilling to see her in a leadership role, transforming the branch through mentorship, recruitment, organizational vision and technical excellence,” he said. “Mrs. Gilmer has ‘walked the walk’ as a minority female manager in the science and technology sector of the federal government, actively supporting diversity and inclusion through her day-to-day actions with employees and outside organizations and individuals.”
Such a track record up to that point would seem like enough for one to call it a successful career, but Gilmer was not done. Her successful management of the personnel and over $12 million budget as a branch head positioned her to take over as the Electromagnetic Signatures Technology Division head in 2020, also making her the first African-American woman to lead any technical division at Carderock. One year later, she continues to prove to the command’s leadership and prominent personnel that she was the right fit for the job.
“Throughout her career, Ms. Gilmer has dedicated herself to technical excellence and service,” said Carderock’s Technical Director Larry Tarasek in his letter of endorsement for Gilmer. “She is a proven leader, role model, tireless advocate for her team, and dedicated professional who personifies the strength and diversity of our nation.”
These achievements did not come without challenges, some related to learning curves of new positions, while others were due to the nature of being a Black woman in a largely white male-dominated field. However, Gilmer refused to mull over moments of hardship for too long, and is adamant on helping usher in future generations of women like her looking to leave a mark in the STEM world.
“Being a strong personality, I have that to offer to others who maybe need mentoring or guidance. I know it’s hard, and we don’t all have the same resources as our strengths to get us through,” she said. “No one expects you to do everything on your own. There are always others who paved the way for you who can give you guidance on how to avoid the pitfalls and get to your own path of success.”