From nuclear powered ships to flight simulation, utilizing military skills to manage programs

Maria Winters, principal program manager, Simulation and Training Solutions, applies her technical engineering knowledge, leadership and planning skills learned in the Navy to perform her job at Rockwell Collins every day. 

When planning for college, Winters was offered two ROTC scholarships, one from the U.S. Air Force and one from the U.S. Navy.  She chose the Navy and entered the NROTC program at Tulane in 1991.

Upon graduation in May 1995, she was commissioned as an Ensign and chose Nuclear Surface Warfare as her specialty.  At that time, women were only allowed to serve on surface ships versus submarines, so she was sent to Surface Warfare Officer school in Rhode Island. After completion, she was assigned to the USS O’BANNON Spruance class destroyer out of Mayport, Florida.

Winters spent 1.5 years on the O’BANNON standing watch as the Officer of the Deck, and  received her Surface Warfare Officer qualification. She then moved to Orlando, Fla., to attend a six-month academic Nuclear Power School course before heading to hands-on training called Prototype on-board a nuclear powered submarine in Charleston, S.C.

“I was one of the first three women to report aboard the USS O’BANNON, a ship with close to 370 people,” said Winters.  “That said, I never felt different or disrespected in any way and chose nuclear power so that I could work with some of the smartest people in the Navy. I was proud to be part of the team blazing the trail for women in the military,” said Winters.

After receiving her nuclear power qualification, she was assigned to the USS HARRY S TRUMAN Nimitz class aircraft carrier and participated in a number of operations around the globe.  She stood watch as the Reactor Propulsion Plant Watch Officer and supervised 20 enginemen.

At the rank of Lieutenant in the summer of 2000, Winters faced a major career decision point.  She could become a Department Head in the Navy which would include a shore duty to acquire a Masters degree and another five year commitment in the Navy, or she could pursue a technical career more in line with her college major – Computer Science.  She chose to leave the Navy and began her job search for a civilian engineering position. 

“When looking for a job, it really is all about who you know,” said Winters.  “That’s why it’s absolutely critical for our transitioning military members to reach out to everyone they know. And it’s equally as important for all of us in management to try to find positions for those leaving the military.”

“Winters landed her first civilian job through a connection in a retirement community in Florida of all places. Her father’s neighbor in the community happened to be the father-in-law of one of the principals at NLX, the simulation and training company in Sterling, Va., acquired by Rockwell Collins in December 2003.   “In February 2000, NLX was growing fast and looking for smart engineers,” said Winters.  “My father offered my resume as someone who fit that description and I was hired by one of the company’s founders after my interview before I even left the Navy.”

Winters has been at NLX and Rockwell Collins for 15 years now and is currently leveraging the many skills she learned in the Navy in her current position.  As an Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer and a Combat Information Officer in the Navy, she was actively involved in working strategy, planning and tactics to achieve missions.  She does the same type of work today working our company’s E-2 simulation programs, UAS sensor training systems and commercial product development.  “I really just moved from managing surface ship systems and missions to working on aircraft systems and missions,” said Winters. “They both require similar skills.”

Story posted: November 10, 2015

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