Taking Position: Women in PNT extend a hand

January 12, 2016  - By
Image: GPS World

A first-time gathering at ION GNSS+ gives mentors in the GNSS field an opportunity to help newcomers.

By Tracy Cozzens
Managing Editor

I had the privilege of attending a unique and special gathering at ION GNSS+ this past September. The meet-and-greet event was Women in PNT, sponsored by the Institute of Navigation (ION), Spirent Federal Systems and NovAtel.

“The idea to organize it cropped up last Janu­ary in discussions with sev­eral ION colleagues, men and women, who recognize that both academia and industry in the navigation-related fields may not be considered as an attractive career path for young female professionals, due to insufficient mentorship and too few role models,” explained organizer Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska, who is ION president, a professor at The Ohio State University and contributor to GPS World. “The main goal of this, and future gatherings, is to show the younger women in PNT that balancing engineering or academic career with family life is quite possible, and that there are many of us out there who can mentor, advise and help.”

The guests were treated to a variety of delicious hors d’oeuvres shared with champagne, and plenty of time to get acquainted and network. But the highlight of the event was the stories and perspectives shared by the eight designated mentors, who discussed the tricky business of balancing home life and work life, including motherhood, despite building a career in a challenging male-dominated field.

More than 60 women attended the event. “I didn’t even realize we had that many ladies in the PNT community,” said Grace Gao, assistant professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“I hope that the younger women were able to network and take away some of the advice and wisdom provided,” said Francine Vannicola, mathematician, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

A poll conducted after the event showed that all attendees are likely to attend another such gathering, and everyone found it not only satisfactory, but valuable. One attendee commented, “I was trying to make a time sensitive career decision, and it was extremely helpful to discuss it with people who fully understand the field but have absolutely no involvement in the outcome. Their feedback was valuable and unbiased.”

The mentors also found the networking opportunity invaluable. “I got to talk to several fellow PNT women whom I would probably not have met in, say, the exhibition hall,” said Anna Jensen, professor, KTH Royal Institute of Technology. “Also, it was encouraging and motivating to hear the stories from the other panelists.”

“As I entered into engineering school, I felt a great deal of competition between the men and women,” said Ellen Hall, president, Spirent Federal Systems. “I felt it in the workplace, also. But at the women’s PNT event, it seemed like a support group where all guard could be let down, and everyone genuinely wanted to help one another.”

“As a young woman I often discounted specific women in science or engineering events because I didn’t think they were necessary and that I already knew how to run with the boys,” said Sandy Kennedy, director and chief engineer, NovAtel. “Now that I am older, I see the value in them because we do have specific challenges to face. And as a hiring manager, I also value these events to meet students and new grads.”

“I think this is a great event that brings women together not to be judged by their papers and presentations,” said Jade Morton, professor, Colorado State University. “Instead, we were all in the same room to support each other, and to share our own struggles and triumph. That was wonderful!”

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.