Hometown Influencers, Hollywood Storyline

“Hidden Figures” Heroes Inspire Career Ambitions

Head Photo of woman smiling

By Cassie Mann

When you ask engineers about what inspired their career paths, often they’ll point out someone from childhood — a teacher, a scientist they learned about or a family member who pursued a similar professional passion. For Systems Engineering Manager LaDawn Randall, it was the women from her hometown of Hampton Roads, Virginia, who opened her eyes to what her future could be.

“I was fortunate to know many of the now-famous ‘Hidden Figures’ mathematicians like Dr. Katherine Goble Johnson and Dr. Christine Darden,” LaDawn said, referring to the 2016 movie which profiled the team of Black, female NASA mathematicians who made waves in STEM and served a vital role in the U.S. space program.

Early Inspiration

Growing up, LaDawn was a frequent visitor to the Darden home — she not only called this renowned scientist a neighbor, but also cheered with Dr. Darden’s daughter at Bethel High School. In middle school, LaDawn joined Cooperating Hampton Roads Organizations for Minorities in Engineering (CHROME), a pre-college outreach program that prepared minority students for STEM careers and, at a CHROME event, heard Drs. Johnson and Darden talk about their influential experiences. Johnson specialized in orbital mechanics and crewed space flights while Darden’s 40-year NASA career led to outstanding developments in aerodynamics, supersonic flight and sonic booms.

“It was eye-opening and an inspiration to hear about their contributions in aerospace and their passion for math,” she said. “They were everyday people and members of my community, but also pioneers who made an impact in space and boosted my confidence that I could also be an engineer one day.”

After high school, LaDawn pursued a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Virginia State University, inspired by Darden and Johnson as well as her older cousin, who majored in industrial engineering. While there, LaDawn joined Alpha Kappa Alpha, the same sorority where Johnson and Darden were members. Motivated by her hometown heroes, she set out to make her own mark on the field after college, beginning her career as a systems administrator for a ship building company. She later transitioned into a Department of Defense (DoD) role where she managed a variety of cybersecurity tools and reporting tasks.

Cyber Career Steps

In 2012, LaDawn joined Northrop Grumman as a lab manager in Newport News, Virginia, under the Air Operations Center Weapons Modernization Program. However, within six months, it was clear to LaDawn that she wanted to return to cybersecurity work, where she could leverage her DoD experience to protect the warfighter against adversarial attacks.

“I saw the advancement of technology outpacing security,” she said. “I wanted to be more involved with the security side of the business to provide value in the system and mentor the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.”

LaDawn pivoted career paths and began leading a small Northrop Grumman cybersecurity team that identified, validated, tracked and reduced weaknesses in the AOC program’s hardware and software. She later relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, where, today, she supports cybersecurity on the F-35 and Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) programs.

“I am passionate about my work,” said LaDawn. “While I do not serve in the military, I make a contribution to those who serve in the military and our country by ensuring security for our systems to support their missions for success and a safe return home.”

Mentoring a New Generation of Engineers

LaDawn said she’s experienced firsthand the boundless growth opportunities that the company offers, calling it a joyful ride. With 23 years of industry experience, LaDawn shared that the most meaningful part of her work is mentoring early-career engineers. She was raised by a teacher, so this comes naturally, she said. Her goal is to be like her hometown heroes, inspiring the next generation to unlock their career potential.

Her best advice?

“Never be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Step out and learn something new; never stop learning,” said LaDawn. “You are building your own brand, so make sure you are putting your best foot forward in everything you do: your work ethic, your products, your interactions.”

Life at Northrop Grumman

Your work at Northrop Grumman makes a difference. Whether you want to design next-generation aircraft, harness digital technologies or build spacecraft that will return humanity to the moon, you’ll contribute to technology that’s transforming the world. Check out our career opportunities to see how you can help define possible.

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