Women have long been innovators in the fields of science, technology, philosophy, and education. In honor of Women’s History Month, the Department of Energy (DOE)’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity held a special “Visionary Women” panel discussion at headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“I’m proud to lead a department that has such a strong history of women innovators and leaders,” said Secretary of Energy Rick Perry as he introduced keynote speaker Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty. “You may not have put your hand up and said, ‘I want to be a role model,’ but you are one.”
“Women make up a more significant portion of U.S. leadership and national security positions than ever before in our history – from the private sector to right here in DOE and NNSA,” said Gordon-Hagerty in her keynote address. “Long before there was a DOE, there were women strengthening our Nation through nuclear security.”
Gordon-Hagerty offered up examples of skilled, dedicated team members who helped shape the Nuclear Security Enterprise.
The much-beloved Calutron Girls applied for positions at Y-12 National Security Complex without knowing what they were working on. It was highly classified but vital to the war effort. These young women were more effective than the male scientists in keeping the equipment operating. The men were constantly fiddling with the equipment’s knobs, negatively affecting operations. Afterwards, the women returned the systems to normal.
Betty Carrell was the first female mechanical engineer at Sandia National Laboratories in California. She was hired in 1959 and worked alongside 350 male peers to keep our Nation safe.
Nuclear physicist Jane Hamilton Hall worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory alongside her husband. Her 1946 performance review stated she was “not of secondary importance” on her projects. In fact, she went on to become the Assistant Director at Los Alamos Lab.
The panel discussion included NNSA’s Michele Smith, Deputy Director for the Office of Nuclear Verification. She was joined by Mecole Spencer of the FBI, Deputy U.S. Marshal Tomeko Bryant, and Dr. Tara M. Ruttley from NASA.
“It’s about perseverance. Knowing you have the ability to do something, even if you get knocked down,” Smith said. “When I was in university, I flunked out of school. I took a semester back at home, helped out with some family issues going on there, reapplied, and got back in. I switched my major from aerospace to nuclear engineering and ended up on the dean’s list by the time I graduated.”
“So many women before us laid the foundation for the opportunities ahead. It is now our turn to continue to build upon that foundation and not waste their blood, sweat, and tears. We should be celebrating contributions women have made to our world every single day,” noted Gordon-Hagerty in closing.