Paving the Way for the Next Generation of Female Leaders
Air Force veteran, chief scientist, and academic are just three of the many impressive titles included in GTRI Senior Research Engineer Anne Clark's curriculum vitae. But during Women's History Month this March, Clark has one message for aspiring female leaders across the globe: Be yourself.
"One of the things I would tell young women is don't just try to fit in – be yourself," said Clark. "Find the things that you're good at, and that you want to do, and go out and do them."
Clark serves as the chief scientist for the Air National Guard Program Office (ANGPO) of the Electronic Systems Lab (ELSYS) at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). In this role, Clark oversees the organization's Independent Research and Development (IRAD) portfolio and develops strategies to promote and enhance the program office's technical capabilities. Much of Clark's work occurs at GTRI's Tucson, Ariz., field office, which provides aircraft engineering and test support for the Air National Guard-Air Force Reserve Command Test Center and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, as well as support for various U.S. Department of Defense computer network defense efforts.
"I lead a lot of our independent R&D research, building out future capabilities, and making sure that we're looking ahead for what our sponsors need, which is primarily Air National Guard flight tests," Clark said.
In particular, Clark has played an instrumental role in GTRI's collaboration with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and the U.S. Air Force Logistics Directorate’s (HAF/A4L) Tesseract Office of Innovation to help evaluate the applicability of commercial airline maintenance practices to military aircraft fleets. A study done to test the application of these best practices facilitated better aircraft utilization and more flight hours for a group of ten C-5M Super Galaxy transports, the largest aircraft in the Air Force’s fleet.
Clark also currently teaches a course for undergraduate students in the Georgia Tech College of Engineering. The class, called "Fundamentals of Digital Design," examines how various electrical components – such as switches and wires – work together to support digital computing systems.
In the Family
Clark attributes her initial interest in joining the military to her father, who was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force and served from 1956 to 1985.
Growing up a military brat, Clark relished in experiencing new sights and cultures as she frequently moved with her family to different locations across the country and world.
"I moved around a lot – we bounced back and forth between California, Virginia, Georgia, and Italy," Clark said. "I loved it."
After graduating from high school in Valdosta, Ga., – home of Moody Air Force Base where her father retired – Clark attended the United States Air Force Academy, which kickstarted a 30-year career in the Air Force. Clark retired from the Air Force in 2018 at the rank of colonel, which is the most senior field-grade military officer rank that is equivalent to a captain in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.
Clark said her undergraduate experience underscored the importance of speaking up and proving that she and her female counterparts could compete in a challenging military environment. During those days, Clark looked to the female military 'superstars' of the past for strength and guidance, though she noted that at the time, female role models were few and far between.
"When my class came to the Air Force Academy, women weren't allowed to fight or do any kind of combat missions and really had not been fully adopted into the force," Clark explained. "There were some superstars who had made it, but we really didn't have the numbers to feel as if we were part and parcel of the military."
One of those 'superstars' that Clark received inspiration from was Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist who coined the term 'software bug' and served as rear admiral in the U.S. Navy. Hopper managed the development of one of the first compilers that led to the creation of COBOL, a high-level computer programming language that is still in use today. In computing, a compiler is a computer program that translates computer code written in one programming language, or the source language, into another language, called the target language, that facilitates the creation of an executable program.
The fact that Clark had relatively few female role models to rely on as a military officer actually enabled her and others to set a precedent for future female military leaders – one in which women were able to embrace the qualities that made them unique instead of merely blending in with their male peers.
"Women solve problems differently and approach things differently," Clark said. "When I was a colonel in the Air Force, I could then look at other women being recognized as being very good at problem solving, building consensus opinions, and doing their homework ahead of time."
Clark praised GTRI for its dedication to celebrating women's achievements. Specifically, Clark noted GTRI's 'entrepreneurial spirit' has provided a space for her and other women to lead teams, build their own programs, and contribute to the strategic direction of the program.
GTRI offers six employee resource groups (ERGs) that drive opportunities for employee engagement, professional development, education, training, recruitment, retention, and community outreach. One of those is HER@GTRI, which exists for employees who identify as women.
Clark encourages young women who are eager to become leaders in their own field – whether at GTRI, Georgia Tech or elsewhere – to embrace the qualities that make them unique, while remaining mindful of the female trailblazers who came before them and made it all possible.
"With that sense of obligation that my generation had to fit in and prove ourselves, I think we paid those dues and the gift to the next generation is take that, run with it, and grow," Clark said.
The Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is the nonprofit, applied research division of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). Founded in 1934 as the Engineering Experiment Station, GTRI has grown to more than 2,800 employees supporting eight laboratories in over 20 locations around the country and performing more than $700 million of problem-solving research annually for government and industry. GTRI's renowned researchers combine science, engineering, economics, policy, and technical expertise to solve complex problems for the U.S. federal government, state, and industry.