With its intersection of transportation, communications, and computing, The Boeing Co. seemed like a gold mine of opportunity to Pamela Drew (Math '85, MS CompSci '87, PhD '91).
"Those three things have changed the planet and the way we think about the world, and Boeing is involved in all of them," Drew says, recalling her first contact with Boeing in 1996. "IT had become the hottest topic, and I thought that my background could be of great value."
Drew had led advanced software technology projects for U.S. West Advanced Technologies for several years while working on her PhD, before being recruited as an assistant professor of computer science at the newly formed Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. But after spending a few years abroad, she was looking to come back to the U.S. with her husband and young son to a job leading a Research & Development operation in a business environment.
So she sent Boeing some ideas about how it could integrate data into its manufacturing business, and the company snapped her up. She initially served as manager of applied research in information management and collaborative technologies at Phantom Works, Boeing's enterprise research and development organization.
Looking back on those early years, she says she enjoyed being a new voice of information technology in a group of aerospace veterans. "I raised some eyebrows when I would joke that jets are nothing more than nodes on a network," she recalls.
Now Drew serves as vice president of Integrated Defense and Security Solutions, which is part of the Advanced Systems group in Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems business unit. "I've had a tremendous stint with Boeing, starting as a first-line manager and later driving a big portion of the technology and future vision and investments," she says.
"I believe I got an excellent education at Colorado," she adds. "My advisor, Roger King, was well known in the database R&D community, so that certainly helped launch me. And my thesis was about integrating heterogeneous databases, which is the theme I used when contacting Boeing 10 years ago."
Drew has been a Boeing vice president in various positions since January 2002, including heading the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligences, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Solutions group in Air Force Systems. There, she had responsibility for major program areas of the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System, the 737 Airborne Early Warning and Control, and the United Kingdom's Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, among other military projects.
In her current post, she looks for opportunities to integrate communications and connect military resources. She also holds responsibility for new markets not related to the Department of Defense, such as homeland security and disaster response. For example, "we can look at the way Katrina was handled and see there's a need to do things more efficiently, to be able to communicate real-time and get resources to people fast," she says.In addition to her management role, Drew is a member of the National Academy of Science's Air Force Studies Board and serves on the Engineering Advisory Council at CU-Boulder.
She also is active in community service, currently serving on the Board of Directors of Washington State's Special Olympics. She recently completed a term as chair of the Boeing Employee Community Fund, which is the largest employee-owned charitable organization in the world.
"We are the largest exporter in the United States and one of the largest companies, so we feel it is important to give back, to be a good corporate citizen," she says.
Boeing has about $54 billion in annual revenue, with slightly more than half last year coming from Integrated Defense Systems and the rest from commercial airline business.
Although there are not many women in upper management in the industry, Drew says she never paid much attention to gender in her own career. "I've never felt my gender was an issue."
"But we have a real challenge ahead of us," she adds. "The aerospace industry suffers from relatively low numbers of female and minority ranks in part because of the pool and the timing. The huge build up of the industry was in the 1960s and 70s space race when the working body was basically made up of white men.
"I do believe with more diversity, in terms of skills, experiences, gender, race, culture, in a group that's functioning well as a team, you end up with much better results."