Urvashi Saxena was born into a family of STEM enthusiasts and her career path seemed like a natural evolution of her upbringing. Yet, she soon realized that not everyone had the same opportunities or experiences that she had, and she was determined to help others realize the importance of STEM. More specifically, Urvashi wants more visibility around the many strong role models for women in STEM.
“I thought that all households had these types of conversations,” Saxena reflected on how her siblings were often quizzed on the latest laptop dimensions and specifications & chemistry elements.
But Saxena’s real passion for computer science and engineering was sparked in seventh grade when her teacher told her to let her imagination be the limit, in terms of designing the HTML website the class was working on. “That’s always stuck with me in my career. When I’m creating products for customers or improving customer experience and giving them the best product. It’s exciting to think that my only limitation is my own imagination.” With the exposure to coding in middle school, it seemed like an obvious choice to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at the Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, FL.
Today, Saxena is a software engineer at Collins Aerospace, working on the E-2D Hawkeye Simulator for the U.S. Navy. “These advanced simulators help train pilots for better mission success,” Saxena explained. Since working on this team, she has moved from front-end development to becoming a SCRUM master and leading the team using agile project management practices. She is now the Product Owner and leveraging agile and open systems to ensure that the simulators can update and quickly adapt at the rate of the aircraft to ensure relevant and timely training for the pilots. Saxena recently has also pursued her Master’s of Science in Data Analytics Engineering from George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, to add data analysis to her skillset to create a product that not only helps the Navy train better but predict the features required to train efficiently.
“The one thing that really excites me about this role is the ability to constantly innovate by applying my software engineering skills, as well as my product management skills to create a better product for the Navy. Through our development of this simulator, we are essentially saving lives and leading to better mission outcomes. It fills me with immense pleasure and pride to see the real-life value in my work. ”
This advancement in her career wouldn’t have been possible without mentorships and advocates along the way. Finding a group of like-minded peers first started when she learned of the “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” event at her high school, The Bishop’s School, Pune, India. Now at Collins Aerospace, Saxena continues to give back and mentor younger students as she was once mentored, because of the impact of representation.
“I joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Women in Technology, and Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and saw the possibilities of having a very successful engineering career. Most of my mentors were men early on because I never saw someone like me as a successful software engineer or making big decisions at the table. Yet, these types of organizations showed me what could be possible,” she explained.
Saxena, recently hosted a group of 35 sixth and seventh-grade girls at the local middle school to join her and a group of engineers from Collins Aerospace to inspire them to seek out careers in the aerospace and defense sector. Saxena explained that before the “Young Women in STEM” event took place, many of the girls didn’t know how to define engineering. At the end of the full day of activities and interactions, the girls’ takeaway from an engineering career is the ability to look at a problem and not be afraid of it.
“The advice that I give to younger women entering into STEM is to never be afraid of being challenged,” Saxena said. “It’s a mindset change that you need to have to do something that’s never been done before. It’s okay to be out of your comfort zone. And it’s okay to ask for help and guidance along the way.”
This mindset not only helps Saxena continue to innovate as far as her imagination takes her but also is opening the eyes of a younger generation of talent that is considering future careers in aerospace and defense.