FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. –
Women remain underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields today. Navy Chief Jen Schooley says exposure to STEM at a young age encouraged her to pursue her passions.
“My dad has been doing STEM projects with me since I was a kid,” said Schooley, who serves as a defensive cyber operator assigned to 25 Cyber Protection Team under Defense Activity 64 within U.S. Cyber Command.
Her father, first a Corpsman in the Navy, eventually became a doctor. Her mother was also in the Navy, however, when she became pregnant, she left the military to raise her family.
“That was what was expected at the time,” said Schooley.
Today, the decision to continue service while pregnant is up to women alone, but there are still hurdles to be faced, and if you’re lucky, overcame. Schooley speaks candidly about the pressure and difficulty of raising a family in the military and as a woman in a male-dominated field.
“The mommy track is very hard – it’s very real,” said Schooley. “As a mom, having my kids and dropping them off at daycare at six weeks old – it was gut wrenching. But then, knowing that this is how it is, and I’m not a bad mom for doing it; I can love my work and I can love my children, and it’s not saying that I put my work over my family, but that you can have both.”
Schooley joined the Navy as a Cryptological Technician Interpretive, where she was a Chinese linguist. She served in this capacity for 13 years where she gained some valuable skills that introduced her to the world of cyber. In 2014 she made the decision to cross rate and commit to transitioning to a rate that would develop her skills in cyber; Cryptological Technician Networks.
Before the Navy would send her to its Joint Cyber Analysis Course, Schooley had to receive a certificate in computer networking. She spent hours after work studying to obtain her Networks Plus certificate, and eventually it paid off.
“I pivoted and changed my career completely,” said Schooley. “What I want to tell anybody, especially women who look at this field as super daunting, is all I could do with a computer before going to JCAG was turn it on, turn it off, play on Facebook and check my email. I had no idea what I was doing. So if you want it, just do it. There’s nothing about a computer that says you have to be a dude to do this.”
Schooley spoke about the importance of bringing women back up to speed following maternity leave, because it is easy to fall behind your peers during the critical weeks away as you recover and care for your newborn.
“When you’re gone and you’re on maternity leave for as long as you are, your skills can atrophy,” said Schooley. “So there’s that thought: Will I be as competitive when I come back, especially when technology is changing all the time and you’ve got to stay relevant? It can be demotivating. Leadership needs to be there to spin you back up get you caught up.”
Currently, Schooley also works special projects under the Cyber National Mission Force where she collaborates with private industry.
Although there are still challenges unique to women in the military and STEM fields, Schooley believes a big way to encourage young girls to be curious is to let them play.
“Get dirty, go outside, be feral,” said Schooley.