Amanda Simpson Leads the Army’s Energy Initiatives, Flies Planes, and Makes History

From driving innovation in aerospace technology to fighting for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, our 2015 Woman of Distinction Amanda Simpson knows what it means to be a leader. She has inspired progress, broken through barriers, and made history throughout her career.


Developing Cutting-Edge Military Technology

Simpson currently serves as the executive director of the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives, and has worked in the field of aviation and defense technology for more than 30 years. Simpson credits her lifelong curiosity with fueling her passion for science and technology. “I wanted to know how things worked and why,” she told us. “It was that question of ‘Why?’ that kept me interested in the sciences all through school and into college.”

While studying physics at Harvey Mudd College, Simpson trained in aviation — an interest propelled by her instructor Iris Critchell, another leader in women’s aviation history. Critchell was one of the first pilots in the unit that became known as the U.S. Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

After college, Simpson began her career with Hughes Aircraft (later purchased by Raytheon), one of the nation’s leading aerospace technology companies. Working her way up from test pilot to managing executive, she successfully led innovative projects in aviation and defense technology. “The years I spent as a test pilot where [we] were testing sensors and different weapons were the most fun I had. … My work and passions were aligned,” she said. “Knowing that I have helped keep not only our war fighters but our nation safe, is by far one the largest rewards that I will ever have.”

Amanda Simpson has flown nearly 3,000 miles in her career as a pilot and aerospace engineering expert. Photo Credit: Tucson Citizen

Amanda Simpson has flown nearly 3,000 miles in her career as a pilot and aerospace engineering expert. Photo Credit: Tucson Citizen

Using Her Success for Good

Simpson works hard to encourage other women who pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She knows the challenges that women in these fields face and uses her life experiences to mentor young women in the industry. “Women [in the STEM industries] need to stand up and not be bullied,” she said.

“The ideas that we come up with as women are just as valuable as those of our male counterparts because we think differently. Our perspective takes a bigger look at problems and their potential solutions. We should not be silenced or told to be submissive, just because we are women.” Simpson mentors women within her organization and generally shares advice with other women in STEM.

As her career progressed, Simpson also began to use her professional experiences to serve society, specifically by advocating for LGBT rights and equality. After 20 years of commitment to LGBT advocacy, she received a historical appointment. In 2009, Simpson was appointed by President Barack Obama to the position of senior technical adviser to the U.S. Department of Commerce, making her the first openly transgender female presidential appointee in U.S. history.

“I want society to know that people can do their jobs very, very well regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of their gender, regardless of their gender identity — or any other part of who they are, for that matter,” she said. “It’s only through living our lives authentically that the world will understand how important every single human being is.”

 In 2010, Simpson became the first openly transgender female Presidential Appointee in U.S. history. Photo credit: U.S. Army Fort Huachuca

In 2010, Simpson became the first openly transgender female Presidential Appointee in U.S. history. Photo credit: U.S. Army Fort Huachuca

Simpson strives to make her life an example of this truth. “There were several different events that compelled me to take action, whether it was the murder of Matthew Shepard or the career of Harvey Milk. I know several role models in the LGBT community — Lynn Conway, Sally Ride, Billie Jean King, to name a few — and it was those people who still inspire me. I can only thank them by paying it forward.”

Simpson has devoted much of her time to helping shape national conversations around human rights and LGBT issues. Her message to the next LGBT generation? “I want you to respect the past and imagine your future. Don’t settle for anything short of full equality, but know that there are those who have fought so very hard to get us where we are today.”

Simpson has advice for young women who want to be confident and successful leaders, too: “Just be yourself. Don’t try to fit into someone else’s mold. The most value that you bring to leadership is exactly what makes you you, and this makes you a good leader.”

Don’t miss your chance to meet Simpson at NCCWSL this year. Register today!

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This post was written by AAUW Educational Events Intern Imani Lewis.

By:    April 07, 2015