Charting a course for success in STEM

Raytheon Missiles & Defense, University of Arizona offer mentoring program for women student veterans

Oddisey Knox is a warrior. 

She joined the U.S. Army to serve her country, and now the 29-year-old single mom is focused on an education– specifically studying astrophysics and landing a job at a national laboratory. 

Knox is among more than 30,000 women who separate from the military every year and make the transition to civilian life. Many face both financial instability and the lack of a strong, central and readily available women’s veteran community to provide support as well as a glimpse into a bright future.

Raytheon Missiles & Defense and the University of Arizona are partnering to provide women veterans like Knox with mentoring in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, subjects. The company is donating $10,000 and professional mentoring to support the initiative. 

“It’s very empowering to see yourself in a place you would like to be someday,” Knox said. “When you see it, you can be it.”

The initiative launched in September with five undergraduate students, five graduate students and five veterans who work at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. They work in groups of three, with the veteran drawing on their experience and sharing knowledge in STEM.

“We’re finding that women – particularly women veterans – are underrepresented in STEM fields,” said Cody Nicholls, assistant dean of students for Military and Veteran Engagement at the University of Arizona.  “Mentorship plays a key role in opening doors.”

One of the mentors is Felicia Jackson, a U.S. Air Force veteran and a senior cybersecurity technologist at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. 

“Women can be notoriously insecure about these areas (careers in the STEM field),” Jackson said. “Mentoring programs like this give them confidence to pursue their goals versus taking other career paths they may not be so interested in.”

Felicia Jackson mentors a student in the Women Veterans in STEM program. (Photo: Joe Jackson)

Felicia Jackson mentors a student in the Women Veterans in STEM program. (Photo: Joe Jackson)

Knox draws strength from women veterans like Jackson who have walked in her shoes and are now working in a STEM field. The program, which will continue through May, has given her the confidence to pursue a graduate degree.

“She (her mentor) framed it in a way that made me believe it was within reach,” Knox said. “It was the first time I had heard of that before – a graduate student completing a rigorous program who was also parenting. It reinforced my decision.”

Between her job, the care of her six-year-old son and her studies at school, she’s putting in a lot of late nights and getting precious few breaks.

“Time management is critical,” Knox said. “I’ve learned to interweave our schedules so I wouldn’t feel as if I devoted 100 percent of my time to just school and not him or vice versa. It’s a constant back and forth between he and I.”  

Mentors and students meet virtually or in person every month, checking in on things like selecting courses, tutoring and financial counseling. 

Participants discuss topics such as the importance of networking, dealing with conflict, maintaining work-life balance and managing setbacks. 

“We grow when we can connect and learn from those around us,” Knox said. “I hope to build a relationship with my mentor—one that allows me to enter into a safe place with problems, come up with solutions—ultimately a friend.”