Interview with Stefanie Easter
Ms. Steffanie Easter has served as the Executive Director for the F-35 program for almost 3 years. The F-35 program is a joint, international cooperative program. They are responsible for delivering three variants of the F-35 aircraft to the USAF, USMC, USN and 8 International Partners and 3 Foreign Military Sales customers. Serve as the “civilian deputy” to the Program Executive Officer (PEO), she is responsible for the design, development, test, fielding and support of the aircraft – as well as overseeing a workforce of about 2500 geographically dispersed team members.
Before taking on her current job position, Ms. Easter was one of five Assistant Deputy Chief of Operations for Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education-OPNAV N1B. She began her career with the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) directly out of college as part of the Engineering and Science Development Program. At the time, her goal was a simple one:” to learn as much about the Navy as possible and graduate from the program”, Ms. Easter shared. “At the time I did not even know what the Senior Executive Service was, so it was nowhere on my scope. I started as an engineer working support equipment for Naval Aviation and then transitioned into the Program Management field.”
As she progressed throughout her career, Ms. Easter was fortunate enough to have great Mentors that helped guide her career and exposed her to opportunities that she probably would not have been exposed to without them.
The position she currently holds was not on her scope either. She was asked by a senior Flag Officer that she had previously worked for to apply for the F-35 ED position, so she did it, and was fortunate enough to be selected.
When asked about service awards won by Ms. Easter, she shared the following:
“The Meritorious and Superior Civilian Service Awards were received as a result of accomplishments made in specific jobs. The Women of Color Award is probably one of my favorites, because my team nominated me for that award without my knowledge and it was a great surprise. The two previous awards are given by leadership – ad that means a lot- but receiving an award because the people I lead nominated me for it was pretty cool – and meant a lot. The BEYA award was a result of my career achievements and the Navy Distinguished Service Award is also special because it is a fairly high level award and I was honored to receive it.”
No two days are alike in the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), Ms. Easter shared. She spends a lot of time in meetings, sharing and receiving information. Additionally, Ms. Barnes shared, “Because of the nature of the program, we have many stakeholders and we spend a lot of time keeping everyone aware of major program activities, while actually executing the program.”
Being a woman in a predominantly male work force, Ms. Easter explains the steps she has taken to overcome biased opinions. “Being a female (and relatively young one when I became a member of the SES), I have dealt with all kinds of biases. I have often shared that my biggest challenge has been ‘being taken at face value’ – because I don’t look like the ‘typical’ Senior Executive in the Navy. I have learned that the best thing I can do to address biased opinions is to prove them wrong. I believe that if I am the best at what I do, that can’t be ignored. You also need to maintain a sense of humor and recognize that we all have biases – and do your part to educate when possible.”
Ms. Easter received a Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering and a Master’s in Engineering Management. When asked her feelings about middle and elementary school children, girls specifically, that are involved with STEM but aren’t they can achieve a career within the engineering fields, She has this to say:
“I would want to know why they thought they could not…what do they see as the barriers? I would tell them that they can do anything they set their minds too. They cannot buy-in to the concept that girls are not good at math and science. Being good at math and science has nothing to do with gender or race. And chances are, if you are exposed to it, you can like it and if you like it, you can excel in it. I have such a passion for ensuring young girls and minorities are aware of what their options are – whether they choose to pursue engineering or not. I want it to be ‘I don’t want to….not I can’t’.”
While Ms. Easter isn’t sure where she sees herself in 5 years, she is open to taking whatever position the Navy offers. In 10 years, she hopes to be retired!