In an unexpected turn of events, Navy Capt. Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Naval Surface Warfare Center Caderock Division commander, chose not to have the focus of her March 29 Andrews Leadership Series spotlight her gender.
Instead, an audience of Team Andrews members tuned in to hear Piper speak about her life as a N.A.S.A. astronaut, a Naval warfare officer, and the trying and triumphant experiences she had throughout her dual-hatted career.
"Even though I'm speaking today during Women's History Month, I'd like to not focus on my gender as much as my experiences," said Piper. "People often ask me what it's like to be where I am as a woman. I say, we all will experience challenges in this life - no matter what your gender."
During the forum, Piper shared personal slides and videos of her life with the audience. Photos and videos shown included a miriad of achievements including images from the beginning of her Naval career as an ROTC midshipman to footage taken of her working on the space shuttle Endeavor in outer space was shown. With each slide, Piper highlighted her pride in the depicted accomplishment and the hardships she endured to make that accomplishment possible.
"When I was in Navy Dive School, I was told that I wasn't going to be able to pass because I was female and wouldn't be able to do six pull-ups," said Piper. "That's not true. Women can do anything. If our bodies aren't able to accomplish a task right away, it just means that we have to work harder. If you're smart enough, if you know what you're talking about and you know what you're supposed to know, you can accomplish anything - no matter who you are."
The leadership series forum concluded with a gift presentation from Col. Greg N. Urtso, 11th Wing/Joint Base Andrews vice commander, to Piper. The gift, a star dedicated to Piper in her name, will serve as a celestial reminder of Piper's dedicated military service and her determination to squelch stereotypes for every type of person.
"The only thing that's guaranteed is that we'll all face challenges in this life, no matter who you are," said Piper. "Overcoming adversity then becomes about how one deals with these challenges, not about who the person was that experienced them."