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Women in Defense-Greater Boston Chapter (WID-GBC), the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML) Manning School of Business, Francis College of Engineering, and Kennedy College of Sciences students, alumni, and industry professionals hosted an interactive networking dinner on STEM-based work, technologies, and career opportunities in the defense industry. We made an impact on a student by participating in this valuable, sold-out event to help guide them into successful STEM careers!


Our speakers' theme of the night was Career Choices, Impacts and Transitions.



University of Massachusetts Lowell

220 Pawtucket Street, Lowell, MA 01854

Moloney Ballroom, University Crossing 260

Welcome Remarks

  • Dean James Sherwood, Francis College of Engineering

  • Ms. Kerry Creeden, Vice President STEM, WID-GBC

Dinner & Presentations from Distinguished Professionals

Introduction of Speakers - Dean Noureddine Melikechi, Kennedy College of Science

  • Ms. Lauren Oleksyk, Retired Food Technologist and Team Leader - U.S. Army

  • Ms. Jennifer Santos, Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer Scientist – Draper Laboratory

  • Ms. Cara Gillespie, Product Line Engineering Director - BAE Systems Inc.

  • Ms. Shenhav Ruttner, Global Markets Director – Beacon Interactive Systems

  • Ms. Shelby Laychak, Associate System Analyst – Systems and Technology Research (STR)

  • Ms. Abigail Fabian, Electrical Engineer, Raytheon – An RTX Business


Presentation of WID-GBC/UML Scholars

Scholarship Process / Selection Criteria:

  • Yi Yang, Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Strategic Initiatives, Manning School of Business

  • Amit Deokar, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs, Manning School of Business

                            Presentation of Scholars - Dr. Brittany Soboliev, Scholarship Chair, WID-GBC

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Lauren Oleksyk , Retired Food Scientist and Team Leader from U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command – Soldier Center

Lauren Oleksyk recently retired from the Department of Defense, U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command - Soldier Center, Natick, MA, where she served as a Food Scientist and Team Leader in the Combat Feeding Division (CFD). During her career she led a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and engineers who explore groundbreaking food processing and packaging technologies to develop high quality combat rations for Warfighters worldwide. Ms. Oleksyk received a BS degree in Food Science from Framingham State University, MS degree in Management from Emmanuel College, and Certificate in Project Management from Boston University. She is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps and graduate of the U.S. Army National Guard Mountain Warfare School. She holds U.S. Patents on extended shelf-life leavened bread and a self-heating package for food and beverages, and has authored over 30 publications in the field of food science and packaging. She has appeared on History Channel’s Modern Marvels, NBCs Rock Center, America’s Test Kitchen, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, BBC, Federal News Radio, and was featured in Time Magazine’s cover story on “Ten Ideas That Are Changing Your Life.” Her professional honors include the MG Greene Award for Innovation, U.S. Army Material Command Louis Dellamonica Award, Colonel Rohland A. Isker Award, R&D Magazine Top 10 Award, Dupont Packaging Award, and the DoD Packaging Excellence Award.

Jennifer Santos, Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer – Draper Laboratory

Jennifer Santos is the Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer at Draper in Reston, VA.  She joined the company in March 2021. She also serves as a commissioner on the Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution Commission.  With more than 26 years of national security leadership experience, Jennifer has served as a tri-sector leader, across executive branch, legislative branch and industry, in roles at the Department of Defense, Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and in the private sector. Jennifer was most recently naval research and development investment executive for the Department of the Navy, responsible for leading the strategic budget analysis of the research and development investment strategy. Previously, Jennifer served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy (IndPol) at the Department of Defense, responsible for analyzing the capabilities, health and policies concerning the industrial base on which the DoD relies for current and future warfighting capabilities. Earlier in her career, Jennifer served as vice president for Air Force and DoD innovation at consulting firm Cypress International; as a professional staff member on the Senate Appropriations Committee for Defense; and in a finance and acquisitions role in the Department of the Air Force. Jennifer holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Wheeling Jesuit University and an Aerospace master’s in business administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. She serves regularly as a guest lecturer at the Defense Acquisition University and numerous DoD organizations.

Cara Gillespie, Engineering Director, SFF Solutions - BAE Systems Inc.

Cara Gillespie is a Product Line Engineering Director for one of BAE Systems Electronic Combat Systems Product Lines in New Hampshire. She is responsible for overseeing all engineering content, bids, and execution of development and production programs that support the Warfighter. Cara has over 17 years of experience in various engineering discipline, and project leadership roles, in both the commercial and defense industries supporting sensor development and deployment. Cara spent time in the Automotive Safety industry on Automotive Radars, working

internationally to support active safety radar development. Throughout her career, Cara has enjoyed supporting the mission of the company’s she has been a part of and focused on protecting lives. She enjoys collaborating with the business to support continuous improvement projects, development of high performing teams, and working to ensure solid execution of the projects she oversees. She studied Mechanical Engineering at University of Maryland- College Park with a focus in Automotive Design, and received her Masters as part of the Engineering Leadership Development Program at BAE Systems, graduating from UMass-Lowell. Cara is a member of the Women in Defense Organization, and committee member of the NH-Tech Alliance- Tech Breakfast series.

Shenhav Ruttner, Glabal Market Manager – Beacon Interactive Systems

Shenhav Ruttner leads Global Markets for Beacon Interactive Systems, a rapidly growing defense contractor focused on digitizing mission-critical operations, with multiple software systems deployed across U.S. Navy ships, submarines, and carriers and driving capacity on the flight lines for the U.S. Air Force. Spearheading Beacon’s global expansion, Ms. Ruttner identifies new market opportunities, cultivates business relationships and partnerships, and manages the company’s export-ready status. Prior to Beacon, Ms. Ruttner served as an officer in the IDF where she ran maritime security for the Israeli border Command and Control operations as a base commander at the young age of 24.  Ms. Ruttner holds a BA in International Affairs from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a Master of International Affairs in International Security Policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) in New York.

Shelby Laychak, Associate System Analyst – STR

Shelby Laychak is an Associate Systems Analyst at Systems and Technology Research (STR). She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia where she double majored in Astronomy and Statistics. During her time at the University of Virginia, one of Shelby’s research projects consisted of her Astronomy thesis which focused on comparing rotation measurement values of HII regions to supernovae remnants.  Post college and during the pandemic, Shelby went into the medical field as a Research Data Coordinator in the Cardiovascular Imaging division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She chose to change fields to pursue a career in defense that better fits her interests and aligns with her studies from college.  At STR, Shelby works in the Systems Analysis and Modeling (SAM) group of the Sensors Division. In this group, she uses her statistics and software development skills to create simulations and build automated systems that help solve national security challenges.

Abigail Fabian, Electrical Engineer - Raytheon, an RTX Business

Abigail Fabian is an electrical engineer at Raytheon in Portsmouth, RI and transitioned from intern to full-time in 2021. She earned both her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. At Raytheon, her work centers around signal processing and analysis with a focus on sonar and underwater acoustics. She supports primarily research & development projects and has recently presented her work at the International Conference on Sonar and Radar in Lerici, Italy. She is passionate about DE&I and wears many different hats at work to promote DE&I, such as Raytheon's women's employee resource group's Communications Chair, department DE&I lead and Site Engagement Lead. Outside of work, she is the Vice President of Women in Defense - Greater Boston Chapter, and she enjoys playing pickleball, cooking and traveling.

Thank you to our annual sponsors, BAE, STR, Raytheon, Draper, and Beacon!

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Thank you to our small business sponsors!

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