Celebrating women in STEM: Amanda R. Simpson

There are many ways to serve your country. For some, service in one of the five branches of the U.S. military is the best option. But for others, including those in the transgender community, serving in the military is not an option. 

In the case of Amanda R. Simpson, serving her country meant dedicating her life to aerospace, energy and defense, eventually rising through the ranks to serve as deputy assistant secretary of operational energy for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) under the Obama administration. 

Simpson was born on March 26, 1961, in the Chicago area, but grew up in southern California. She completed her bachelor’s in physics from Harvey Mudd College in 1983. While finishing her undergraduate degree, Simpson worked as a student engineer for the Hughes Helicopter Company and Douglas Aircraft Company and also trained as a pilot. After graduation, she joined Hughes Aircraft Company as a production line engineer, working on radar systems. 

While working at Hughes, she returned to school to finish her master’s in science and engineering from California State University at Northridge in 1988. That same year, she became the director of flight operations at Hughes Missile Systems Company. She stayed in this position for 12 years, overseeing the construction of a $10 million flight hangar, flight tests and system integration for proposals with the DoD. 

Simpson also completed her master’s in business administration and management from the University of Arizona in 2001.

Raytheon Company acquired Hughes in the late 1990s. Simpson held several positions for Raytheon after the merger, including chief architect, deputy chief engineer and deputy director of Raytheon missile systems. While working for Raytheon, she also made a public, six-year transition from male to female. But she didn’t let her transition dampen her career prospects. 

In 2004, Simpson became the first openly transgender person in the U.S. to win a contested primary election, becoming the Democratic nominee for the Arizona House of Representatives. The same year, she was named one of the “Women on the Move” by the Young Women’s Christian Association. In 2006, she won the Raytheon Team Excellence Award. Simpson continued to work at Raytheon until 2009.

Simpson’s years with Raytheon paid off when former president Obama appointed her to the position of senior technical advisor with the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security in 2010. She was the first transgender woman appointed by a U.S. president and the first transgender person to hold an Executive Branch position. 

“Being the first sucks. I’d rather not be the first, but someone has to be first or among the first,” Simpson said in an interview with ABC News after her appointment hit the media. “I think I’m experienced and very well qualified to deal with anything that might show up because I’ve broken barriers at lots of other places, and I always win people over with who I am and what I can do.” 

In 2011, Simpson moved to the Pentagon to serve in the Army Office of Energy Initiatives. In 2015, she was appointed the deputy assistant secretary of operational energy for the DoD, overseeing the $19 billion energy budget for the department. She stayed in that position until 2017, when the Trump administration asked her to leave.

Today, Simpson is the vice president for research and technology with Airbus in Virginia.

To date, Simpson has earned many awards, including the 2015 “Woman of Distinction” Award from the National Conference for College Women and Student Leaders and the 2016 Arlington Gay Lesbian Alliance Champion Award. In 2017, she won both the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service and the DoD’s Pride Civilian Leadership Award.

Are you interested in empowering women in the STEM fields? The Women in Science (Wi-Sci) group wants you! Email President Emily Larner (emily.larner@mail.umkc.edu) for more information.

mew9bc@mail.umkc.edu

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