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NEWS | Feb. 23, 2021

WISE Up: Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division Collaborates with Locally-based Women for Inclusivity in Science and Engineering

By Esmi Careaga NSWC Port Hueneme Division

To help increase the number of women in senior leadership positions at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD), the command is collaborating with a local university’s women advocacy group, a resource that may also provide employee candidates.

The command has joined forces with representatives from Women for Inclusivity in Science and Engineering (WISE) at California State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI) in Camarillo, Calif., as both are mutually focused on advancing women in science and engineering fields. WISE has a similar focus and name as an organization at other universities but the CSUCI group has customized its mission and methods to inspire women to engage and participate in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, according to csuci.edu. Further, the group supports women who plan to advance their research and leadership roles in STEM fields. Both students and faculty are able to attend and participate in WISE events.

NSWC PHD Deputy Technical Director Vance Brahosky spearheaded the collaboration between the command and CSUCI’s WISE program after he attended a cybersecurity workshop at the university in 2019.

“I was introduced to Vandana Kohli, CSUCI dean for arts and sciences, by the head of the CSUCI Computer and Science Department,” Brahosky said. “In the meeting, I learned that Kohli and I share a similar passion for increasing the participation of women in STEM, and that by strengthening our engagement, a pathway could be built for CSUCI graduates and the tenant commands at Naval Base Ventura County.”

To help develop the partnership, Brahosky invited Kohli and other CSUCI faculty to NSWC PHD to connect them with its women leaders.

“This initiated a collaboration plan between WISE and PHD’s Federal Women’s Program (FWP),” Brahosky said.  “As an institute of higher education and faculty, WISE is interested in supporting students and their advancement through education and transition to the workforce.”

The FWP is part of NSWC PHD’s Special Emphasis Group, which focuses on advancement and inclusion of women in the workforce. Sara Dooley is the FWP lead while Grace Martinez is the champion.

After an initial start, the WISE and FWP’s collaboration goals came to an unexpected halt in March 2020 when COVID-19 forced the NSWC PHD workforce into max telework and the CSUCI students into online courses.

With help from technology, however, members of NSWC PHD’s FWP met with the CSUCI WISE group virtually via Zoom conferences. 

“Now that we’ve discovered the power of virtual collaboration, the FWP hopes to hold more virtual events with CSUCI,” Brahosky said. “The goals for the two groups collaborating include supporting all women in or connected to the NSWC PHD workforce and CSUCI faculty.”

To keep the initiative moving forward, Kristine Klimek, a department business operations manager, assumed the new responsibility as NSWC PHD’s lead manager for the WISE-PHD Collaboration Program.

The goals for the WISE-PHD collaboration include supporting women in the workforces of NSWC PHD and CSUCI, as well as promoting and supporting female CSUCI students to enter STEM education fields and eventually the STEM workforce, Klimek explained, because women in both workforces face similar challenges as members of technical organizations.

The collaborative team plans to host several events, the first of which is scheduled for early March, and also intends to share best practices in providing opportunities for women to move into higher-level leadership roles, and encouraging them to learn and understand what they need in terms of knowledge, skills and abilities to take on those roles. The team also aims to encourage and support students in STEM fields as well as other professions at NSWC PHD. 

“We have a strong core team and several motivated contributing teammates, both male and female, from across the command,” Klimek said.

For CSUCI students, the collaboration encourages them to enter STEM fields. The skills gained, Brahosky said, could help transition the students into STEM-related jobs and then eventually into the NSWC PHD workforce, ultimately benefitting the command.

“The CSUCI WISE group and NSWC PHD’s FWP intend to have events that share best practices,” he said. “These gatherings will help provide opportunities that will encourage women to participate in leadership roles. The events will also help build their confidence, develop knowledge, skills and abilities necessary in leadership positions.”

Brahosky said another factor that motivated NSWC PHD to collaborate with CSUCI and WISE is that CSUCI is a one-stop-shop for technical, business and data analytics degrees in Ventura County.  

“Building strong relationships with an academic institution in our backyard helps pay dividends in having a pathway for their students to join our workforce,” he said. “This is a win for the university and a great win for us in terms of growing a skilled workforce.”

NSWC PHD Deputy Quality Program Manager and Co-Lead for the WISE-PHD Collaboration Program Sandya Radhakrishna said groups like WISE provide support, mentorship opportunities, open communication and a positive environment for women to focus on their skills and aim for leadership positions.

“Teaming with a group that has similar goals, such as WISE, will allow us to leverage our collective talent and bring some of their best practices or lessons-learned to support women in our workforce,” Radhakrishna said. “In addition, the collaboration will extend our network of women and men and encourage them to support each other.”

Ideas on the table for the collaboration group also include employing NSWC PHD’s women-oriented Lean In Circles with membership from this expanded network; and leveraging CSUCI research and NSWC PHD Naval Innovative Science and Engineering projects to help meet NSWC PHD’s mission and at the same time expand its collaborative network.

“STEM female professionals networking with groups like WISE benefit from mentors and coaches who provide support and inspiration,” Radhakrishna said.

The WISE and NSWC PHD collaboration could also result in CSUCI internships at NSWC PHD—connecting educational capstone projects with those internships—and NSWC PHD employees speaking at CSUCI classes.

“We are looking for engagement from our workforce with the goal to help ourselves grow our individual capabilities, to help NSWC PHD continue building an ever more robust inclusive workforce at all levels of leadership, and to help the command recruit highly talented individuals to succeed us in maintaining the stable, world-class workforce needed to overcome today’s and tomorrow’s challenges in accomplishing our mission,” Klimek said.

Having a robust STEM workforce is as critical today as it has ever been, she added.

“The late Navy Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, inventor of the Common Business-Oriented Language, serves as a great example,” Klimek said. “Women experience more challenges and obstacles, including juggling work and life, facing a gender gap and barriers, and being forced to work under pressure to prove their legitimacy and performance.”

Women leaders help change preconceived notions about who can lead by introducing different perspectives, talents and abilities, Klimek said. They also filter information and form optional courses of action that are different than those of their male counterparts.

“Women focus on effective communication, including listening, problem-solving skills and self-awareness,” Klimek said. “Women also facilitate knowledge sharing, open communication, emotional attunement, humility, diversity, work-life balance and teamwork, which makes them effective leaders in this technology-driven society.”