U.S. Government sponsored Foreign Military Sales (FMS) training and logistics within the Continental United States and in several foreign nations. Together, S3 with S3I has trained nearly 6,000 U.S. and foreign military aircrew members, including personnel from more than 35 Partner Nations. All combined, S3 has logged more than 470,000 instructional flight hours, primarily in advanced rotary-wing military aircraft and simulators.

Smith has blazed trails for women entrepreneurs through her own pioneering life by succeeding in fields historically dominated by men, and she has empowered other women — and men — willing to follow her lead. Although she has enjoyed significant success, Smith never forgot how her early decisions — filled with risks, especially in fields not yet fully open to women — laid the foundation for her to impact industry, her community, and other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

Smith grew up in Alabama, envisioning limited career options for herself. “My intent growing up was to always become a teacher or a nurse,” she says, “but my parents told me to always be flexible and not get stuck on one path, to always be open to change.” Her limited scope significantly broadened and clarified with education. She enrolled in Jacksonville State University with low-interest rate loans and wasted no time exploring academic subjects on the quaint college-town campus nestled in the Appalachian foothills of northeast Alabama. “When I was in college at JSU, I was the only female in several higher math and science courses,” she recalls. “Today’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum was not in vogue at that time, especially for women. Even today, it’s not popular for females.” It’s a situation she attempts to rectify. “I offer a full scholarship to the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) for a female majoring in a STEM- related field who maintains a high GPA,” she says.


Still, Smith forged forward in a STEM career, with the help of Boeing. The contractor was gearing up to meet President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s and return him safely to Earth. In his 1961 moon-shot speech the president declared, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win...”

That vision partly manifested in Boeing’s decision to open an office in the “Rocket City” of Huntsville and scour the South for math, science, and engineering majors, where the company found Smith at JSU nearing graduation and planning to be a math teacher. Instead, in 1967, the college graduate was propelled into Kennedy’s new frontier. “Boeing brought us recruits in and hired IBM to teach us computer programming. It was very intensive and exciting training. When trained, we immediately began supporting the Moon mission. During missions, we’d sleep on cots for only four hours; then we got up and were at it again. It was a huge 19

opportunity to live in that environment.” At a time when Frank Sinatra crooned over some AM radio waves “Fly Me to the Moon,” Smith was one of the lucky females on Earth who had the opportunity to work on the program that got mankind to the Moon and back home; an opportunity that Smith hopes to relive when NASA is given that challenge again.

Smith remained with Boeing for only two years before the Huntsville operations of the NASA Apollo Moon program came to its successful conclusion. Boeing closed its Huntsville office and laid off or transferred 6,000 employees. Huntsville promptly went into recession. “It was a very critical time when we questioned our (civic) survival,” Smith remembers. Huntsville found another way to prosper when the Army SAFEGUARD anti-ballistic missile program (today’s Missile Defense Agency) came to town. Later, NASA’s shuttle program began. “We’ve never looked back,” says Smith, who safely landed at Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) to eventually lead simulation and modeling tasks for 13 years for Army Ballistic Missile Defense and subsequent Army R&D programs managed by Space and Missile Defense Command.

However, Smith wanted to break beyond her technical niche in service to large corporations and learn the art of small business management and entrepreneurship. After a dozen years she left CSC to become Employee 31 at startup Nichols Research. She was hardly encouraged by the CSC management team in her move. “They told me I was crazy for leaving CSC because I’d been with them 13 years and had worked my way up to a management role. In fact, they told me Nichols would fold within two years, but many years later they paid mega-million dollars to buy them,” she chuckles.

In the dozen years Smith was at Nichols Research, the company grew to 1,600 employees. The owners, Chris Horgen and Roy Nichols, generously shared business operation lessons and opportunities for any employee who chose to devote the hours and wanted to get involved. “Once again, I was provided a great opportunity.” she says. To this day, she appreciates the mentorship she and others received from Horgen and Nichols. “I don’t think they know how many people they impacted by giving us opportunities to learn. Nineteen employees that I know of left and became successful entrepreneurs.”

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