Directed energy director continues to inspire and help others

  • Published
  • By Connie Rankin
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs
Many women know Susan Thornton as their mentor, a leader and a friend who motivated them towards their careers and goals. Ms. Thornton, who is the director of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Directed Energy Directorate, was recently presented the Cathay Williams Award.

This award is sponsored by the Tribute to Women organization. The award recognizes women in New Mexico who serve as role models and who have been instrumental in advancing opportunities for women. Ms. Thornton has mentored military personnel and civilians providing them with guidance from her personal experience and lessons learned.

Ms. Thornton was cited for her experience as a leader and her skills as a communicator, creating an office environment where people want to excel and take pride in their jobs. She encourages her employees to voice their opinions freely on any subject and also lets them know their ideas will be considered. Her leadership style is noted as a key to her success when she served as the chief engineer for the Airborne Laser program.

As an educated, female engineer and with her strive to advance, Ms. Thornton has become the first woman to serve as director of the Directed Energy Directorate. This is an inspiration to many women who look to her as a role model.

Selected as the director in November 2006, she oversees a workforce of more than 800 military and civilian scientists, engineers, contractors and support personnel. Ms. Thornton handles a budget of more than $300 million dedicated to developing high- and low-energy lasers, high-power microwaves and optical technologies. Thornton continues to help others advance and reach their goals.

Ms. Thornton's education includes a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Wright State University, Ohio; a master of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Dayton; and a masters in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Massachusetts.

Cathay Williams is known as the first woman to serve in an American military unit. She joined the Army, as a Buffalo Soldier, disguised as a man in November 1866. She was discovered by a doctor when she became ill in October 1868, and was discharged in New Mexico.