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Life Built with Purpose: Meet Gabrielle Cole

Discover how Gabrielle Cole is making an impact as an embedded software engineer for Northrop Grumman and a Black Hawk helicopter pilot for the United States Army National Guard.
Gabrielle Cole header image for SWE blog

Gabrielle Cole has two jobs protecting and serving our country. She is an Embedded Software Engineer for Northrop Grumman and Black Hawk helicopter pilot for the United States Army National Guard 

Gabrielle Cole of Northrup Grumman
Gabrielle Cole and the UH-60V Black Hawk digital cockpit. (Photo by Northrop Grumman)

Like many undergraduate students, Gabrielle went off to college intending to pursue one field of study and changed course along the way before finding her true passion. She had intended to become an attorney, and even interned at a law firm, but her curiosity for science pulled her in another direction.  By graduation, Gabrielle had an undergraduate degree in Astrophysics from Princeton University.

At her core, Gabrielle wanted to make a difference by helping people and the communities in which she serves. After completing her first master’s degree in physics, she set her sights on her second master’s degree in mechanical engineering and hasn’t turned back.

“It’s important to me to feel like I am having a real-world impact on people and can contribute to society in a way that is practical and hands-on,” said Gabrielle.

Gabrielle Cole with her mother
Army 2nd Lt. Gabrielle Cole is congratulated by her mother after completing U.S. Army Flight School at Fort Rucker, Al, March 24, 2022 (Photo by 2nd Lt. Michael Needham)

Empowered to Succeed

Gabrielle’s career goals have always been to work for a company where she would be intellectually stimulated and do challenging work that makes a difference. She feels fortunate that for eight years she has been empowered at Northrop Grumman to try new roles and build new skills.

At the start of her career at Northrop Grumman, Gabrielle participated in a rotational program for entry level engineers. The program offers new employees the opportunity to do three or four rotations, each for six months to a year, embedding yourself in each area. During her rotations, Gabrielle had the opportunity to work on data build tool testing, signal conversion, traveling wave tubes and more.

Upon completing the program, she found her passion was most satisfied within the embedded software team where she works on an electro-optical infrared sensor system that provides high-resolution imagery for aircrews flying F-16 fighter jets and other fast moving military aircraft.

Gabrielle believes that defining what you are passionate about “leads to joy and satisfaction through a life built with purpose.”

Army 2nd Lt. Gabrielle Cole poses with a UH-60 Black Hawk
Army 2nd Lt. Gabrielle Cole poses with a UH-60 Black Hawk, which she pilots for the Illinois National Guard (Photo by Army 2nd Lt. Gabrielle Cole, Illinois National Guard)

Called to Serve

Gabrielle knew she had a higher calling and wanted to serve in the military, but she didn’t want to leave her career behind. After working as an engineer for a few years, she decided to join the U.S. Army National Guard. She went through basic training and ultimately flight school to become a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, recently taking command as a first lieutenant leading a MEDEVAC unit.

When Gabrielle was going through flight school, she had an experience that brought her civilian and military worlds together. Some of the equipment she was using, like the digital cockpit, to fly the Black Hawk was designed and built by Northrop Grumman.

“Often engineers don’t see the final product behind what they’re creating. That moment shifted my mission from a goal to a central part of my life.  We are in the business of returning our service men and women to their loved ones and that sticks with me,” said Gabrielle.

As a black woman in this industry, Gabrielle believes her unique experiences are important and valuable at Northrop Grumman and in the National Guard as an active-duty service member.

At times, Gabrielle feels a level of responsibility to share her voice as she is often the only woman in a room. Her self-confidence empowers her to use these opportunities to bring perspective and diverse ideas. Gabrielle feels “an obligation to speak up, to be a personality in the room and encourage other people outside of the room to come on in. The water is warm, hop on in.”

For Gabrielle, the future holds endless opportunities.  She would love to work on exciting and ground-breaking projects like the James Webb Space Telescope, continue to hone her skills as an engineer and move up in the ranks with the National Guard.

As an embedded software engineer and member of our military forces, Gabrielle feels a special connection with the purpose of each mission. She believes this valuable experience provides her the ability to relay information from both sides, engineer life-saving technologies for our military and use them as a Black Hawk pilot. For Gabrielle, right now is a “great time to be a woman engineer and a woman in aviation.”