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Top Women in Aerospace Come Together to Discuss Leadership

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Women in Leadership panel chaired by Space Missile Command’s Civilian Executive Joy White, and included Barbara Wesgate (SES, DOD), General Cathy Chilton (Air Force), Gwynne Shotwell (SpaceX) and Claire Leon (LMU).

Claire Leon, director of the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering’s graduate program in Systems Engineering, recently joined other top aerospace industry professionals at a Women in Leadership panel hosted at the Los Angeles Air Force Base. A kickoff to Women’s History Month, the Mar. 1 panel included Leon and SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell alongside military and government officials from the Air Force and Department of Defense.

The speakers shared insights and expertise from their distinguished careers, offering diverse perspectives on the role of women leaders. “I think the intent was to talk about, ‘When you’re confronted with challenges, what to do you do?’” said Leon. “Oftentimes when challenges come up they provide you an opportunity to change direction. When you make the most of it and you don’t let it stop you, then it can actually provide new opportunities.”

Leon knows a thing or two about making the most of challenges. She began her career at Hughes Space and Communications Group (later acquired by Boeing) in the early 80s, rising to the level of vice president as one of few women leaders in a male-dominated industry. She later spent time as a civilian executive in the military before transitioning to the world of academia. Leon cites the ability to overcome challenges by maintaining a positive attitude and perseverance as the keys to her success. “You just take one day at a time and keep moving. When you demonstrate your value to the organization, then people eventually come around.”

Claire Leon, director of the Seaver graduate program in Systems Engineering, at the Women in Leadership Panel at the Los Angeles Air Force Base

Leon has a long track record as a mentor. She developed a women’s mentoring program and served as an Executive Champion for Boeing’s Women In Leadership organization. Participating in the recent Women’s Leadership Panel was a chance for her to continue that role, as well as an opportunity to make connections with other industry leaders. “We’re working to collaborate with local industry and the Air Force Base,” said Leon, noting that Loyola Marymount University’s proximity to companies such as SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, Millennium, Linquist, and many others makes it a natural fit for both industry partnerships and potential students. “We are trying to get word out that this program is here, it’s local to so many companies, and that we have reshaped the program to meet industry’s needs.”

Leon is currently organizing a cross industry-government-university mentoring event for the fall that brings together the Los Angeles Society of Women Engineers, LMU’s SWE Chapter, Women in Defense, local industry and the Space Missile Command. “We will have a panel of senior executives who will share their perspectives, as well as a ‘speed mentoring’ session to facilitate networking for all participants,” Leon explained.

Among Leon’s goals as director are increasing course offerings in growing fields like cybersecurity, space systems, software architecture, and allowing students more flexibility in choosing coursework. “When you have people with different backgrounds across an array of jobs, it is important to provide a full range of classes that they can select to strengthen their skill and allow them to advance in their careers,” said Leon. “So we have restructured the program to allow students to really customize the curriculum to meet their needs and the needs of industry today.”