NORCO, Calif. – Two Inland Empire women have been tapped for senior leadership posts at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division, the Department of the Navy’s center for independent assessment, measurement science, and range systems engineering, its top officer announced on Aug. 26, Women’s Equality Day established by Congress.
Capt. Eric Ver Hage, Commanding Officer, said the selections of Kim Kruzel as Comptroller and Laura Hewitt as Performance Assessment Department head are well deserved and reflect the progress made in the last several decades to bring more women into all levels of naval service.
“I’m extremely proud of these appointments,” Ver Hage said. “Kim and Laura are the best at what they do, and I couldn’t be more pleased to have them in these leadership positions.”
Kruzel is responsible for overseeing the financial operations of $300 million in annual business, and Hewitt oversees the department that evaluates major fleet exercises, the Navy’s component of the nation’s Ballistic Missile Defense System, and other key programs.
Both women are the first females to head their departments and follow a series of selections that have put more women in senior leadership positions.
“I am thrilled to be able to work with such a talented group of dedicated individuals who work hard every day to support our mission requirements,” Kruzel said. “Ensuring that our people have the right resources, training and growth opportunities to become strong financial leaders is one of my main responsibilities.”
The warfare center’s business model- known as a Navy working capital fund – is essentially like a corporation that charges Navy and other Defense Department customers for science and engineering services their programs need. Similar to a corporation’s chief financial officer, Kruzel has to carefully manage the command’s overhead and routine operational expenses – yet unlike its commercial counterparts, end up with no net profit at the end of each fiscal year.
While more women have risen to top posts in business operations, like the financial and legal fields, fewer have made it to leadership positions in technical fields because of the limited numbers in the pipeline, a challenging problem that begins with college graduates.
Historic college enrollment data show far fewer women than men graduating with undergraduate degrees in engineering, and 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal less than 14 percent of engineers employed in the United States were female.
But at the warfare center during the past decade, the number of female engineers has risen from 11.5 percent to more than 17 percent, and the percentage of supervisors has grown by half, now close to 15 percent – almost double the national average less than 9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Having Laura at the helm in our Performance Assessment Department shows just how far we’ve come by recruiting more females to these fields,” Ver Hage said.
Hewitt started her engineering career in 1977, when even fewer females were pursuing technical careers than today. Now she boasts three decades of experience in military projects and leads one of six major departments.
Deputy Technical Director Dianne Costlow, an engineer and one of the warfare center’s other female leaders, headed two other technical departments earlier in her career and is the first female deputy technical director. She says Hewitt will excel in her new role.
“Laura does not shy away from a challenge. She listens to the varied perspectives and ultimately makes a decision on moving forward – attributes of a good leader,” Costlow said.
Since Hewitt began working at Norco’s Navy base in 1981, being female presented some unique challenges. Early in her career, she was required to assess training exercises aboard ships at sea with all-male crews.
“It was a time when the Chief of Naval Operations had to approve, via Navy message, the request for females to ship-ride on Navy vessels,” Hewitt said. “I decided to forge ahead with the fleet work and do my best. I was committed to getting all the experience I needed. So, I’m prepared for everything, and I’m very excited to be here.”
For years, the warfare center has made diversity a high priority, and these appointments reflect a steady trend of bringing more women to the command.
Kruzel and Hewitt join Cathy Oaxaca-Hoote, the command operations department head, making for three female department heads. Other women have also been promoted to leadership positions among the command’s 1,000 scientists, engineers and support personnel.
Minhhong Tran recently took over leadership of the newly formed Readiness Information Systems Division that is working in the critical cyber security area, and Penny Campbell was recently selected as the command’s first human resources director.
The Pentagon’s top diversity and equal employment opportunity director, Clarence A. Johnson, also noticed the efforts in place during his visit three years ago.
“From what I’ve seen here,” said Johnson, “[Naval Surface Warfare Center] Corona is a model for everyone to follow.”
Ver Hage reflected on how much progress women have made but knows more recruiting needs to be done in science and engineering.
“If I could ask one thing of the public, it’s that if you see young people with potential in these technical fields, nurture it and support it, and let them know they have great opportunities to serve their country as a civilian Navy scientist or engineer. You couldn’t ask for a more rewarding career.”