AFWiSE community seeks to empower women within AFRL

Female scientists in laboratory

AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate researchers Megan Imel, left, and Dr. Amanda Criner discuss laboratory test data. Air Force Women in Science and Engineering, or AFWiSE, is a resource group that gives female scientists and engineers a forum to gather and share new ideas, while promoting the growth and professional development of women within AFRL. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Lori Hughes)

AFWiSE organizational meeting

AFRL research engineer Dr. Mary Kinsella discusses upcoming events with committee leads and members of Air Force Women in Science and Engineering, or AFWiSE, a group that promotes professional development and advancement for women in AFRL. Pictured from left to right are Mary Shelly, Cindy Bryant, Leslie Sollmann, and Kinsella. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Holly Jordan)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- An emerging group of female scientists and engineers aims to change the face of the AFRL research community.

Air Force Women in Science and Engineering, or AFWiSE, is a recently-formed resource group that brings together women to promote and foster achievement, advancement, and success within the research environment.

AFWiSE is the brainchild of Dr. Mary Kinsella, a research engineer who spent 30 years in the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate before taking on her current role as the AFRL University Relations Manager. She says the idea was born from a desire to make AFRL a more welcoming and inclusive place for women within the research environment.

“We strive to make AFRL not only an inviting place, but a preferred place for women to work,” she said.

AFWiSE is an engaging and inclusive resource group that gives women a forum to gather, network, and share new ideas for the advancement, professional development, and promotion of workplace diversity throughout AFRL.

“AFWiSE enables women S&Es to get together, support each other, discuss issues, and share best practices,” Kinsella said. “It is a means to bring about training, networking, mentoring, and other activities that the group deems necessary and beneficial.” She added that the fundamental aim is to give female researchers the opportunity to share ideas in a supportive environment, which in turn could help foster greater confidence, opportunity, and success within the workplace.

The AFWiSE program also seeks to grow the number of women who enter and build careers within the research community, an issue first highlighted by former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. Currently, women account for less than 17 percent of the total AFRL science and engineering workforce.

Kinsella said the inspiration to initiate the group came in part from her involvement in organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers. She said through these groups she learned a great deal about how AFRL can leverage diversity and inclusion to the benefit of the entire workforce. She added that her efforts were in turn supported by the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate leadership, who have consciously worked to increase the number of female scientists and engineers in their workforce.

The group is currently in the process of putting a charter in place and establishing the inaugural leadership team. Kinsella said volunteers have already stepped forward to organize activities focusing on varied topics including workforce development and life balance.

The group has already held a number of career enrichment events, including speed mentoring and a networking event at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. They are currently looking to offer gatherings to include flexible work schedule discussions, speaker series, a mentoring toolbox, professional and social networking events, peer reviews of resumes, and lessons-learned luncheons. Kinsella said the group expects to have a more detailed list as well as a schedule of events in the near future.

Materials engineer Andrea Helbach currently serves as the chair of the group’s Networking Committee. She said part of her motivation to join and promote AFWiSE came from her desire to shape the workforce for the next generation.

“I have a lot of passion behind mentoring women and ensuring the workplace is inviting for women,” Helbach said. “I have a three-year-old daughter, and I want to do my part to make the workplace as inviting as possible for her and her generation.”

It is Helbach’s hope that AFWiSE can become growing positive force within AFRL, encouraging both leadership and members to get more involved in their workplace environment.

But these women don’t want the mission to stop there. Helbach and Kinsella believe AFWiSE can have impacts far beyond the immediate goals. They say it is their hope that the group can be a pilot for AFRL, laying a blueprint for potential future organizations that can benefit underrepresented groups.

Kinsella says it has been a joy to see AFWiSE grow from an idea to a reality. She says the group has seen a lot of interest so far, and she looks forward to getting more women involved, especially those who are newer to the workforce. 

“Participation in this group has been great,” she said. “Interest is high, and there is definitely a need for this kind of thing. Women at all career levels, from early career to late career, seem to be interested. I’m very excited for the future of AFWiSE.”

AFWiSE is open to anyone within AFRL who supports its mission. Men are also encouraged to get involved, as well as contractors and those not in science and engineering fields. For more information on AFWiSE, interested parties can contact Dr. Mary Kinsella or Andrea Helbach.