Hannah Bertelson is a civilian electrical engineer with Naval Systems Warfare Center – Crane Division.
The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has been an important element of her development as an engineer since she was at school at the University of Wyoming. In fact, Hannah first learned about opportunities with the Navy as a civilian at SWE. She was walking out of an interview and saw the Navy Civilian Careers booth. “They have a lot of great opportunities to travel. There are so many different departments and so many different projects; I felt like the Navy was my best bet for getting to do a lot of cool things in a short amount of time.”
She has certainly been proven correct. Currently, Hannah is working with counter unmanned aerial systems. Basically, the deterrence of drones for Navy ships. And if that wasn’t enough, the other group she works with does research and development for anything hypersonic. “I asked if I could split my time between the two groups because I thought it was interesting. I wanted to learn more. Everyone there was willing to let me learn and grow as an engineer. I got super lucky. I’ve done a lot of things that first-year Hannah would never have thought I would have been able to accomplish.”
Hannah travels a lot for her job, almost every other week—something you might not anticipate for her role. She goes all over the country to see hypersonic demonstrations, makes sure the labs have all the elements they need to do their research, and brings feedback to her team so they can better support the efforts.
With the other division, she travels to ships at Naval bases to help troubleshoot the drone systems before they ship out. And this is one of the favorite things about her job.
She says, “We get to meet a lot of sailors. We get to explore the ship and see new areas. I got to go to my first aircraft carrier. I was like a kid in a candy shop. If you’re able to help the sailors solve something in the hectic time before they ship out, that’s really rewarding.”
“I think we always look past how important communication is for engineers. If you can’t explain what your technology is or explain what it does, it’s hard to sell that to someone or get them to even use it. In my role, you’re always meeting new people and new sailors, and you have to gain their trust very quickly so that they feel comfortable telling you things they’re having issues with. You have to make sure they know that they can trust you. You’re there to help them and make their lives a little bit easier. I feel like I have an advantage as a female engineer. I do more easily gain that trust with them. And we get really valuable feedback as a result.”
One of the unique things about working for the Navy as a civilian as opposed to working in private industry is a kind of expansiveness, space to move and grow in your career. “They understand that the more you learn, the more beneficial you’ll be in the future. I love it.”
In the spring, Hannah will be going to Sweden for six weeks, working with our allies and making sure that our systems are compatible, as well as sharing information with people that we’re hoping to work with. “That will be really exciting, getting to meet so many new people from different countries.”
As a member of SWE, “I’m at the point where I’m able to help other women and young girls who are hoping to go into engineering or considering STEM. I can hopefully give back to them, like other people did for me.”
She has two pieces of advice.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The smartest engineers are the ones who ask the most questions. They’re constantly thinking, ‘how can this go wrong?’ ‘How can we make this better?’ That’s something that took me a while to learn, but it’s okay to ask questions.”
“Don’t be afraid to volunteer for big projects. Don’t be afraid to ask to be put on something, even if you don’t know anything about it. With the Navy, everyone is so willing to teach you what they know. We all have the same goal and the same mission. The more you know, the more beneficial you’ll be for the Navy. Working with the Navy as a civilian is a really great way to go. I think they just really care about you as a person.”