Reality Shift

Systems Engineer Rebecca Peterson wants to bring a new reality to employees across Northrop Grumman.

By Nora Blum

Systems Engineer Rebecca Peterson wants to bring a new reality to employees across Northrop Grumman. Over the past year, Rebecca and her team have unlocked the power of cutting-edge augmented reality (AR) technology at manufacturing sites across the company, transforming the way work gets done on the shop floor. But along the way — and throughout her career journey — Rebecca has learned a powerful lesson about the importance of belonging and what it means to lead the way for others.

Finding Community

As a freshman engineering student at Brigham Young University (BYU) in 2011 – where, at the time, women were not in the majority – Rebecca realized that strong support systems would play a significant role in her life.

“While I was in school, I felt like I was the Elle Woods of engineering,” she said, referring to the bubbly and outspoken heroine of the movie “Legally Blonde.” “People didn’t take me seriously because I didn’t fit the mold of how they thought an engineer should look.”

Rebecca took matters into her own hands, founding the first-ever university chapter of Women in Manufacturing. The professional organization provided her with community and camaraderie, launching her desire to pursue a career in manufacturing. She continues to mentor students in the program today.

After graduating with her master’s degree in manufacturing systems in 2015, Rebecca discovered her passion for AR — an immersive technology that merges digital and physical environments — while at her first job in the automotive industry. But once again, she was one of only a few women in the room.

In 2019, Rebecca connected with Northrop Grumman at a Society of Women in Engineering conference, which left a lasting impression, and — encouraged by the referral of a BYU alumna who worked at the company — led her to the company’s culture of belonging.

“Northrop Grumman’s major presence at the conference sent a signal to me that advocating for women was big on their radar,” said Rebecca, who joined Northrop Grumman in 2020.

SFAR, So Good

Today, Rebecca is the product owner for the Shop Floor Augmented Reality (SFAR) team. The team empowers employees through AR technology, which includes headsets and tablets that can overlay computer-generated content — digital work instructions, remote assistance and more — onto the user’s view of the real world. Technicians are already benefitting from the technology’s real-time visual cues and warnings, which help them complete tasks more accurately, efficiently and safely.

Rebecca said she has fostered strong bonds with other women on the team, including Software Engineer Taylor Pohl, Industrial Engineer Ana Casciello and Manufacturing Engineer Diana Lopez. Driven by the ethos “empowered women empower women,” the four have connected over their passion for technology and promoting a culture where every voice is heard.

Driven by that commitment, the team has incorporated inclusivity into the SFAR vision. During the early testing and evaluation of the AR devices, the group included diverse perspectives and, in doing so, recognized the need to establish safety and accessibility standards. They’ve incorporated best practices for users with vision or hearing impairments, including speech-to-text, larger font sizes and color settings.

“If we’re going to pioneer technology that transforms the work being done on the shop floor, it’s critical that it works for everyone,” said Rebecca.

Not only are Rebecca and her teammates excited about advancing AR’s accessibility for employees, they feel grateful to be each other’s biggest supporters.

“Working with and being mentored by other women and leaders who advocate for you only makes you want to strive for more,” said Diana.

For Rebecca, finding that connection has been liberating.

“Having that support network where you can be your real self and share your successes and challenges has empowered me to be better, do better and maintain my positive outlook,” she said.

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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