Aspiring to great heights
Cheryl Marin was among nine women honored in March at the inaugural 2019 Richmond Times Dispatch “Strong Voices” program held in conjunction with Women’s History Month and Women Veterans Week. As an Air Force veteran who broke barriers in the space program, Cheryl was recognized for her community engagement and leadership in Dominion Energy’s Veteran Resource Group.
by Cheryl Marin
My roots in Virginia run deep, as I spent much of my childhood on a sprawling family farm near Smith Mountain Lake. I was blessed with strong role models on both sides of my family, including incredibly strong women who were creative, self-reliant, public-spirited and nurturing.
Growing up in the 1960s, I was encouraged to run free and follow my dreams. At 5 years old, after watching a Mercury space launch, I announced that I wanted to work in the space program. Amazingly, no one in my family tried to talk me out of it...although I later learned they thought I wanted to be a flight attendant!
I loved to tinker, solve problems, and build things. Some of my favorite memories include sitting in rocking chairs around a pot belly stove in my grandparent’s store, listening to engineers describe how they were building Smith Mountain Dam. One of my favorite shows was Star Trek and I could best relate to the logical Mr. Spock. In school, I excelled at science, math, technology and engineering. I loved anything fast and loud.
That fascination led me to enlist in the Air Force at just 17 years old. But as I progressed, I learned that "acceptance" into the avionics program didn’t always mean acceptance by my male colleagues.
It came as a shock that no matter how hard I tried to prove myself worthy, many didn’t think a woman could or should be working on aircraft – let alone F-15 fighter jets. In the 1970s, less than 3 percent of the military was female, and most women were assigned traditional administrative or medical roles.
I was sure that if I scored higher on exams, worked harder and certified faster than my male counterparts, the bias against me and other women would change. But the needle barely moved toward inclusion.
Occasionally I received a compliment from my male colleagues: "She works like a man." I thought to myself, "I work like a woman."
I found ways to persevere and earned a leadership role as a shift chief supervising a team of airmen. I sought out ways to change the bias against women by becoming a leadership instructor for new military supervisors. My classroom was a safe space where bias, diversity, and inclusion were discussed freely, with dignity and respect.
I didn’t let the naysayers stop me and always welcomed a new challenge. I completed my electrical engineering degree and was commissioned as an officer. As an engineer on 26 different Department of Defense and NASA space launches – including the Space Shuttle, Atlas, Delta, Pegasus, and Titan – I was able to achieve that 5-year-old’s dream.
In my son John and his generation, I see great potential. I hope they and their children follow their unique voices and dreams – and that they always encourage and influence others, like the 5-year-old me, to reach for the stars.
I’ve learned over the years that bias and resistance to change is part of our human condition. But simply acknowledging these predispositions isn’t enough. To become our best self, we must avoid putting labels and limits on people. True equality comes when we accept each person as an individual.
Today, I serve with Dominion Energy. I’m so proud to be part of a company that honors the contributions of both women and veterans. I’m equally proud to be part of a company that never backs down from its values, values that have become my own: Safety, Ethics, Excellence, Embrace Change, and One Dominion Energy.
I, like many fellow veteran colleagues, know that our diverse leadership and life experiences enable us to accomplish any assignment. As we walk through Dominion Energy’s doors each day, we bring with us the same discipline, drive, and determination that guided us to tackle military missions. As is true in all walks of life, our pasts lend themselves to our futures, ensuring that we always aspire to the next great height.