Women building their futures in engineering
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama (Feb. 22, 2016) — For Beth Bullock, engineering is a family affair.
Bullock, an electrical engineer with the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, showed a talent for engineering at an age when her contemporaries were learning to color inside the lines.
“My grandparents adopted me and my grandfather (who became my) dad was a NASA engineer and one of the charter members of Marshall Space Flight Center,” Bullock said. “I showed a very early enthusiasm for electronics. I fixed his old radio by rearranging the tubes when I was 3.”
Bullock started computer programming at age 9 and opened her own website company at age 13, designing websites for local churches in her hometown of Athens. She was awarded a scholarship to Georgia Institute of Technology, but declined acceptance due to her parents’ concerns about her being far away at school in the big city. Bullock instead started her college career at Calhoun Community College taking programming classes. She then transferred to The University of Alabama in Huntsville, where she furthered her education while interning at communications technology company Digium, Inc.
“I was their 12th employee,” she said. “They were brand new and I was one of their test engineers. I tested all of the cards and did a lot of their trade shows.”
After her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Bullock moved home to care for him while taking online classes at Athens State University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science. He passed away a short time later.
For the next few years, Bullock worked as a contractor for different industry companies. Her father had always urged Bullock to pursue a job with the federal government and following his advice she applied and accepted a position at AMRDEC in 2011, working in development of radio frequency technologies.
“I get to do real hands-on electronic work,” she said. “We do a lot of hands-on software development and development of new radar and RF technologies within the radar group.”
Working at AMRDEC has provided Bullock with different opportunities, including a 12-week stint at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. For the small town girl, living in Washington D.C. was a whole new world of opportunity.
“It was a good experience. A lot of the basic research that we can’t do here at Redstone because the risk is too high — DARPA gets to do,” she said. “I got to experience that more risk-tolerant type of program environment so it was beneficial … on top of that, it helped me bring things back to AMRDEC to help do collaborations between the two of us.”
In addition to professional opportunities, Bullock’s computer science and engineering proficiency also led her to love in an unconventional place.
“I’m so nerdy, I met my husband in a computer store,” Bullock said with a laugh. “I met him arguing over a computer. I called him an idiot!”
Bullock’s now-husband followed her out of the store and promised to fix her computer for free on his own time. The resulting friendship blossomed to love. The couple has been married three years.
As a woman in a STEM career, Bullock credited her female leadership with providing her strong examples to emulate in her role as an executive officer to Dr. Juanita Harris, director for AMRDEC’s Weapons Development and Integration Directorate.
“Being an XO to Dr. Harris really built up my confidence … she is a true leader,” Bullock said.
Bullock said that as a young woman, she has experienced being stereotyped based on her gender and not conforming to the “typical” engineer mold. Her fellow students compared her to Reese Witherspoon’s character in the movie, “Legally Blonde,” especially since Bullock was also blonde, a member of a sorority and even owned a miniature dog like Witherspoon’s character, Elle Woods.
“I call it the ‘Urkel’ stereotype,” she said. “(I haven’t experienced it) at AMRDEC or even at Redstone. But when I am in other cities … they say, ‘You don’t look like an en-
gineer,’ and I respond, ‘What does an engineer look like?’”
Bullock said that change will happen when society starts validating intelligence and “geekiness.”
“You can be a geek and football star … if you are athletic, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t intelligent. I don’t necessarily think that it is a girl thing as much as it is a geek thing. I think it is getting better, because I see kids letting their nerd flag fly. And that is a good thing because you should be who you are.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Feb. 21–27 is Engineers Week, celebrating the accomplishments of Engineers world-wide.
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The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.