NEWPORT, R.I. – Strong guidance from women leaders has played an important role for Megan Driggers and Jaime Fastino in their careers at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport.
When Driggers, a resident of West Warwick, Rhode Island, who is an engineer in the Devices, Sensors and Materials Research and Development Branch of the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department, began working at Division Newport in June 2022, she was inspired by the passion of Dr. Lynn Antonelli, who is the technical program manager of the Lasers, Sensors and Systems Program.
“When I first got here, I worked closely with Dr. Antonelli and she helped me figure out who I was as an individual and what my passions are,” said Driggers, who is now Antonelli’s deputy technical program manager. “She has mentored me to continue working down that path. Seeing how passionate she is about her research and what she does, and helping her to lift it up and make a difference in the S&T community, has been amazing.”
It has been a similar experience for Fastino, a resident of Newport, Rhode Island, who is a financial analyst in the Business Operations Office of the Undersea Warfare Combat Systems Department.
After completing an internship at Division Newport while earning bachelor’s degrees in accounting and finance from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Fastino’s relationship with her supervisor, Marie Levada, played a considerable role in her accepting a job at the command.
“She’s unbelievable. She’s been such a great mentor to me and a great boss,” Fastino said. “I haven’t had that in the past at some of the other places I’ve worked. That was really refreshing to have that and have another woman in leadership who is my boss just be so understanding and thoughtful.”
Now, each with some experience working at Division Newport, Fastino and Driggers are trying to make sure the command’s new hires encounter the same welcoming environment.
In addition to their everyday responsibilities at Division Newport, Fastino and Driggers serve as chair and vice-chair of Division Newport’s New Professionals Network (NPN), respectively. The two also participated in Division Newport’s Women’s History Month video, which can be viewed here: https://www.dvidshub.net/video/876819/womens-history-month.
“The New Professional Network is all about assisting individuals, both new and experienced, in creating professional relationships, as well as career development by hosting professional and social events,” Fastino said. “We strive to help individuals make connections and to help promote knowledge sharing of technical skills and personal interests. We also assist new professionals by introducing them to government resources.”
Currently, the distribution list for the NPN and Teams is about 1,100 members. The group has more events planned for the end of March and April. Typically, events draw about 30 to 40 people and an additional hundred or so if it is on Teams, Fastino said.
Anyone who has been at Division Newport for five years or less is considered a new professional, but the group is inclusive to both new and experienced professionals, Fastino added.
“Sometimes working in the Business Office I feel like I’m just a little piece of the puzzle — I’m not a scientist, engineer or mathematician — but I know I matter and my job matters. Everyone at NUWC’s job matters, and this idea led me to take on more leadership,” Fastino said. “I got involved with the New Professional Network here at NUWC and that has given me such an opportunity to be a leader, to meet other people, to coordinate events for individuals to have that social-work environment to feel like you belong to a nice working society. That has been another great opportunity and something I really love doing here, besides my job.”
Fastino decided to get involved with NPN because she knows how difficult it can be as new professional — particularly a woman — just starting out in their career.
“That was one of my biggest challenges. The world is your oyster when you’re young and it’s so hard to figure out what you want to do and if it’s the right choice,” Fastino said. “Specifically, working for the government, is such a great choice. It gives you that great work-life balance, which I know I appreciate a lot, but I’m still given a lot of opportunities at the same time.
“We have a really great, inclusive environment here but there have been times in my life where because I’m a woman, I’m not a peer. I can’t be as smart as you or top of the class because I’m a girl — especially in my field, finance and accounting, specifically, are extremely male-dominated. I found that at times, because I’m a woman, people thought I couldn’t be smart or I couldn’t viewed as an equal or a peer, but at the end of the day I’m working just as hard as everyone else.”
Like Fastino, Driggers is thankful for the welcoming environment at Division Newport, but in the past has experienced being the only woman in a male-dominated field.
She remembers when she was the only female mathlete in her high school and only woman in her master’s program. A time early in her career, a six-month deployment with a special forces unit in the Middle East, also stood out.
“I was the only woman at that time that was in the program, so I was the only woman that volunteered to go over there. A lot of people asked me beforehand, are you sure you’re ready to do this? In the past, there haven’t been many women and they weren’t sure how it was going to go,”
Driggers said. “There were a lot of challenges that I had, especially when it came to respect. Back stateside, no one has ever questioned my intelligence before. I’ve built up all this past work experience and a résumé that’s recognized, but when you go overseas and they’re not used to seeing women everyday they start to question whether you have the same level as a man. Through my work, I showed them there’s no difference.
“It ended up being a great experience. Sure, a lot of men were confused to see a woman on a special forces base, but it was a great experience. I could do just as much as any man could, so I felt like I did a great job and it was a good experience to be hand-and-hand with the warfighter to support them and make a difference.”
Family also has been important for both women. Driggers grew up in a Department of Defense (DoD) household, as her parents met working as electrical engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp. Both later transitioned to roles with the government.
“My dad became a superintendent at the Naval Research Laboratory, and my mom went on to join the Navy as an active duty member and become a medical doctor,” Driggers said. “She worked for the Navy for 14 years, so I grew up in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) household that was very DoD-oriented. I was always very passionate about it.
“When I went to college I applied for the SMART scholarship, and the DoD paid for my college and then I started working at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City for a few years before going back to get my master’s and transferring to NUWC Division Newport.”
For Fastino, her mother and grandmother both serve as inspirations.
“My mom is a small business owner. She has worked in that field and owned that business since I was two years old. She still owns the company to this day, and I think that’s also why I went to business school is because of her and her teachings,” Fastino said. “I used to work at her company when I was younger, doing bookkeeping and learning the ropes from her.
“She’s integral to being a role model for me and my grandmother is as well. She worked in the factories back in the day in Fall River, Massachusetts, and had seven children that she helped raise. She finished her high school degree at 62, which was really inspiring. She was always really tough and told me to work hard, and that’s what I do.”
NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher’s Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.
Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site- https://www.navsea.navy.mil/Home/Warfare-Centers/NUWC-Newport/Career-Opportunities/ and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.