Women Hold Top Leadership Positions Supporting ONI’s Stem Center for First Time in Command’s History
March 21, 2023
Capt. Ruth Lane is the Commanding Officer of Farragut, Wendy Wenzlick is its Executive Director, and Cristin Rider-Riojas is the Chief Scientist of the Naval Intelligence Enterprise, serving as a senior advisor to Farragut and mission manager for ONI. All three have Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees and, together, the women share 64 years of experience in STEM fields.
“Women of the ONI workforce are on the leading edge of the Navy and Intelligence Community in bridging the STEM gap and contributing in brilliant ways to advance our nation’s security,” said Commander of ONI, Rear Adm. Mike Studeman. “These incredibly talented leaders continue to inspire those around them, routinely tackle the toughest challenges in Naval Intelligence, and serve as powerful role models for both men and women. Farragut's new women-dominated chain of command is no surprise to anyone who knows these amazing professionals and my hope is that what seems remarkable today is made unremarkable in the future as more women take their well-earned places at the top of every chain of command.”
Farragut Technical Analysis Center provides strategic scientific and technical intelligence analysis of foreign technologies, sensors, weapons, platforms, combat systems, C4ISR, and cyber capabilities. In addition to its all-source capabilities, Farragut conducts ONI’s foreign materiel exploitation and signal analysis and is home to the national maritime acoustic intelligence laboratory.
In their positions, Lane, Wenzlick, and Rider-Riojas are driving the analytic processes and the executive-level decisions needed to solve real-world intelligence problems that ultimately support the Navy and nation.
The work closely resembles the scientific method that Rider-Riojas fell in love with at the early age of nine. She explains, “It’s analytic. It’s using bits of information to build knowledge systems, designing approaches to test hypotheses, and gathering pieces to solve the puzzles. It’s problem solving, and all for a mission that contributes to national security.”
Wenzlick shares that passion for purpose at ONI. “It’s a great mission, a clear sense of value, and work with a purpose... it’s hard work, but it’s work that matters,” she says.
The trio solves real-world intelligence problems on a daily basis, but also happen to be improving the representation of women in STEM fields. Their leadership success shatters long-standing barriers, such as the lack of women role models in a traditionally male-dominated STEM culture, which experts theorize perpetuate the gender gap in STEM related fields.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women account for only 27 percent of STEM occupations, despite making up nearly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce. These ONI leaders agreed that they were often the only women in the room throughout their careers. Lane remembers her male-dominated classes at the U.S. Naval Academy where the male to female ratio was 12 to one, and Wenzlick noted the decrease in fellow female classmates as she progressed in her STEM courses during school.
Despite these challenges, pursuing a career in STEM has been a rewarding and positive experience. All three women recall instances where being the only women in the room was an advantage. Rider-Riojas theorizes that it made her more memorable to others, and Wenzlick says she added value to discussions by bringing a unique perspective.
When asked if they would change anything about the STEM culture, the trio had a few ideas. At the top of the list – stronger communication skills for fellow STEM professionals. “Our critical knowledge doesn’t matter and isn’t useful if we can’t communicate it,” says Lane. “We need to be able to translate our technical talk to something understandable and actionable for our audiences.”
“And we shouldn’t all be saying the same thing,” adds Rider-Riojas. “The STEM world needs more diversity.” More women, more minorities, more people with varying backgrounds, ethnicities, interests, experiences, and outlooks; because these things contribute to the way we look at problems and the way we find solutions.
For those young girls feeling alone in their STEM classes, who will one day be the next women in STEM, these leaders have advice: stick with it, and don’t give up.
“I find myself repeating a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,’” says Lane. “Be bold.”