Sustaining the Momentum: Women in Leadership for the Next Decade

Lt. Rebecca Shaw, a U.S. Navy Test Pilot/Project Officer, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron TWO ZERO, set the tone for the audience at the recent inaugural leadership symposium hosted by NSWC IHEODTD and the College of Southern Maryland. In acknowledging the importance of mentors, Shaw said, "Mentoring is a mentality. It is important to see someone like you in leadership roles. Mentorship can change your life."

Symposium co-hosted by NSWC Indian Head EOD Technology Division and College of Southern Maryland

Voices were heard, obstacles were identified and overcome, and a sense of unity and purpose permeated the “Sustaining the Momentum: Women in Leadership for the Next Decade” symposium at the College of Southern Maryland’s (CSM) La Plata Campus.

The symposium was a joint effort between the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (NSWC IHEODTD) and CSM and featured employees from both organizations, the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWC AD), Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), and Charles County Public Schools. The symposium featured panel discussions focusing on work-life balance, as well as challenges faced by minority women in the workforce. During the day-long schedule, attendees selected three of nine breakout sessions to learn more about the importance of visioning, mentoring, learning about unconscious biases, and gender conflict in the workplace.

At the morning keynote address, Lt. Rebecca Shaw – a U.S. Navy Test Pilot and project officer attached to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland – shared how she overcame a particular worrisome career barrier, through resilience and a nudge from a mentor.

During her stint at flight school at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, her initial instructional flight went poorly and she was relegated to retesting before being allowed back into the curriculum. To prepare, she heeded her mentor’s advice and spent weeks hitting the books, assisting other students and pilots prepare for their next step, and spending countless hours in the flight simulator to stay honed for her next opportunity.

So Shaw took a deep breath, emptied her mind and did the first thing that came to mind to help her relax: she sang “Tubthumping,” the chart-topping 1997 hit from British band Chumbawamba extolling the virtues of getting knocked down, but getting back up again.

Lt. Rebecca Shaw told audience members, “The name in my bio is mine, but what is missing are all those key people who helped me along the way.”

It was apropos and the first of many of Shaw’s insights regarding overcoming barriers, empowerment, mentoring and career advancements.

“I’m at the midpoint of my career and I want to know what my next steps are going to be,” Shaw said. “My advice to you is to build confidence in yourself and find the right path to advance your career. For me, a large part of that was finding the right mentor. The name in my bio is mine, but what is missing are all those key people who helped me along the way.”

As the afternoon keynote speaker, Lesley Taylor, executive director, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division/Deputy Assistant Commander for Test and Evaluation, Naval Air Systems Command, reinforced the day’s message. In reviewing the seven Cs of curiosity, competitiveness, courage, commitment, caring, communication and contribution, she offered advice in overcoming barriers and sustaining the momentum.

Lesley Taylor, executive director, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division/Deputy Assistant Commander for Test and Evaluation, Naval Air Systems Command, reinforced the day’s message during the afternoon keynote, offering advice for overcoming barriers and sustaining the momentum.

“Knowing what I do now, the advice I would give my 27-year-old self would be to be yourself, and don’t apologize for who you are. Confidence can be one of our biggest weaknesses,” Taylor said, adding, “you can’t think outside of the box if you haven’t been outside of the box.”

During welcoming remarks, CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy applauded the strong relationship the college has had with NSWC IHEODTD over many years.

“Indian Head was in fact our very first community partner, and this partnership since the early 1960s continues to be sustained and accelerated in so many ways,” Murphy said. “As we look at opening the Velocity Center at CSM in the Town of Indian Head in the coming months, this inaugural symposium is an example of many of the exciting efforts we will be jointly planning to benefit our workforces and community.”

NSWC IHEODTD Deputy Technical Director Amy O’Donnell challenged the audience to listen and learn throughout the day and to network with at least five people they didn’t know.

Amy O’Donnell, NSWC IHEODTD deputy technical director and one of the meeting’s organizers, said the workshop and panel topics allowed attendees a diverse pathway to learn and chart their career path.

“We based this symposium around facing unique challenges to females and minorities in our workforce,” she said. “There is a need right now to empower our next generation of both women and minority leaders and set them on the path toward future success. Establishing a dialog and learning from one another’s experiences was a critical part of this symposium and something we hoped the attendees could take away afterward.”

CSM Business Professor Dr. Mary Beth Klinger was a co-presenter on “Tomorrow’s Leader–Is That Me” with fellow CSM instructors Tony Stout and Dr. Gemma Wenner.

“The Women’s Leadership Symposium was a fantastic opportunity for CSM and NSWC IHEODTD to collaborate and work together in our Southern Maryland community,” said CSM Professor Dr. Mary Beth Klinger, another of the organizers and a co-presenter on the topic of ‘Tomorrow’s Leader—Is That Me.’ “We provided opportunities for networking, skill-building and professional development and made new friends and established contacts along the way. This was a well-received and very friendly event which we hope to grow and continue for years to come.”

According to NSWC IHEODTD Technical Director Ashley Johnson, the U.S. Navy is seeing an increase in its female workforce, and the focus should be on putting the right tools in place to break the barriers in retention and advancement for those individuals. Johnson, during his morning address to the audience, related a moment from his youth in how looking back helps us move forward.

Ashley Johnson, technical director, NSWC IHEODTD, asks morning keynote Lt. Rebecca Shaw about the blind spots that leaders may have and advice to overcome those. Shaw encouraged self-inspection and willingness to pursue feedback.

“I was big fan of the old Star Trek television series growing up,” he said. “That TV show was decades ahead of its time in terms of showcasing and addressing diversity. This event shows the marked progress we have made and will show us how to continue down this important path.”  

For photos from the day’s program, visit

NSWC IHEODTD – a field activity of the Naval Sea Systems Command and part of the Navy’s Science and Engineering Establishment – is the leader in ordnance, energetics, and EOD solutions.  The Division focuses on energetics research, development, testing, evaluation, in-service support, and disposal; and provides warfighters solutions to detect, locate, access, identify, render safe, recover, exploit, and dispose of explosive ordnance threats.

About CSM – The College of Southern Maryland is a regionally accredited community college that provides programs and services with a special focus on local workforce development to maintain and grow a healthy economy and community. CSM serves more than 24,000 credit and continuing education students at its campuses located in Hughesville, La Plata, Leonardtown and Prince Frederick, as well as a Higher Education Center shared with University of Maryland University College in Waldorf and a Center for Transportation Training in La Plata. For information about CSM, call 301-934-7765 or visit

Videos from Sustaining the Momentum: Women in Leadership for the Next Decade Symposium

Panel Discussion | Can You Have It All? Career Success and Life Balance