Volunteers Making a Difference: Nita Patel

This IEEE senior member is helping to shape the future of women in engineering

5 April 2013
Patel Photo: Nita Patel

Another article in a series that profiles IEEE volunteers who have had a significant impact on our organization

IEEE Senior Member Nita Patel was born to lead. She is a systems and software engineering manager in the Warrior Systems Division of L-3 Communications, a defense technology company in Londonderry, N.H. She has helped lead several IEEE groups, serving as this year’s IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) committee chair, as well as board of governors member of the IEEE Computer Society, the 2012 IEEE-USA vice president of communications and public awareness, and the New Hampshire Section vice chair. She’s also a member of The Institute’s editorial advisory board.

“I love working with smart, enthusiastic people on programs and projects that truly make a difference,” Patel says. “IEEE has so many incredible initiatives that it’s very hard to choose which ones to be a part of.”

BIG PLANSThe tasks associated with being the WIE committee chair are enough to keep anyone busy. They include crafting an overall plan for the group’s activities, garnering the participation of other WIE committee members and affinity groups, developing a business plan, coordinating events and industry partnerships, and overseeing the budget. And next year, WIE celebrates its 20th anniversary, so Patel already has her hands full planning events to commemorate that milestone.

“WIE’s biggest objective is to plan our first International Women in Engineering Conference next year,” she says. The conference will focus, she says, on professional development, including managing technical teams, international business and finance basics for technical professionals, professional communication, and global team leadership. At press time, the date and location of the conference were still being chosen.

Patel is also working on establishing WIE awards to recognize members’ volunteer efforts and technical contributions. Currently the group gives out only the WIE Affinity Group of the Year Award to one WIE affinity and one student affinity group in recognition of outstanding leadership and initiative in organizing activities.

And Patel has been building partnerships with industry leaders to hold outreach events for female engineers. WIE teamed with Google in January to host the Enhancing the Sustainability of Women in Technology event at the company’s headquarters, in Mountain View, Calif. The two-day event attracted about 200 attendees, many of them engineers, and included presentations on furthering one’s career, outreach activities, and the latest developments in such technical areas as cloud and neural computing. Inspired by the good turnout, WIE is planning another event this year with Oracle, a business software company in Redwood City, Calif.

A SENSE OF COMMUNITYWhy does IEEE need WIE? The answer is simple, Patel says. First, there is a glaring disparity between the number of women and men entering the field. More women are earning bachelor’s degrees than ever before, but the percentage of women entering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields hovers around 15 percent, where it has stood for a number of years.

“Girls need to realize that if they enjoy finding solutions to problems, conducting experiments, being creative, helping others, and challenging their minds, they should consider a career in engineering,” Patel says. “Having role models in the engineering field—as WIE tries to provide—can be a great inspiration.”

WIE is an important networking and outreach group for female engineers seeking a professional community. “IEEE established its societies so members can engage with people who share a technological interest,” Patel points out. “WIE is essential for the same reason: It’s a community of diverse individuals with an interest in encouraging and engaging other women in IEEE.”

BENEFITTING HUMANITYPatel joined IEEE when a student at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas. IEEE’s mission to benefit humanity piqued her interest.

“I always enjoy finding ways to give back to the community,” she says, “including building homes with Habitat for Humanity and tutoring underprivileged children in math, so I was excited to participate in an organization that strives to help humanity through technology.”

Patel earned bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics in 1995. She got a master’s degree in computer engineering from SMU in 1998.

She began her career in 1995 as a systems test engineer at Texas Instruments Defense, in Dallas. There she was involved with infrared vision, missile, and fire control systems. She left in 1999 for Insight Technology (now L-3 Communications), in Londonderry, where she worked on electronics and embedded software for laser and infrared systems.

She left Insight in 2002 to join RS Information Systems, an engineering contractor in Norman, Okla., where she was chief engineer on a signal processing upgrade for NEXRAD, the National Weather Service’s Doppler radar network. With the project completed in 2008, she returned to Insight as a systems and software engineering manager shortly before Insight merged with L-3. She works now on developing electro-optical imaging and precision targeting systems for the U.S. military.

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