NDSU experience helps graduate launch successful military technology career
Published March 2016
An NDSU alumna’s no-nonsense approach propelled her from teaching high school math to a highly classified career with a leading military contractor.
Paulette Armstrong doesn’t like being called a trailblazer, but she is one. She was one of a handful of women to earn a master’s degree in computer science from North Dakota State University in 1986 and one of two women systems engineers hired in a department of 400 at her first job.
She succeeded in a male-dominated field that has been surrounded by some of the most important technological changes of the 20th century.
But Armstrong simply sees herself as someone who had a job to do and who did it well.
“The stakes were high. If our products did not operate correctly, lives could be lost,” Armstrong said.
NDSU experiences help launch career
Ken Nygard, professor in computer science, remembers Armstrong as technically insightful, articulate, organized and focused.
Her military-related master’s thesis caught the attention of E-Systems in Texas, a defense contractor that built classified surveillance equipment and other sophisticated electronic gear. Armstrong’s background at NDSU had prepared her to master a new computer language in her first week on the job and to quickly develop and deliver a computer simulation.
Armstrong retired in December 2015 as senior system engineering manager at Raytheon Company, where one of her projects was working on the first high-resolution commercial imagery satellite, IKONOS. The satellite was launched in 1999 and provided imaging products until April 2015.
She is representative of the many NDSU graduates who excel nationally and globally.
Sharing career experience with students
Armstrong is one of several alumni recognized by their college for accomplishments in academics, public service or industry, as part of the ninth annual NDSU Distinguished Alumni Award Program.
Recipients share career-related experiences and knowledge with students, faculty and alumni during a campus visit. She described how the workplace had changed throughout her career. Employees no longer smoke at their desks, development teams are now integrated with several types of engineers and more women hold leadership positions.
The computer science industry offers opportunity for rewarding work that can improve society. “You may create a technology that doesn’t exist today. You’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, we did this.’ It’s pretty amazing, actually,” Armstrong said.
NDSU Distinguished Alumni Award Program
Four other alumni were honored through the NDSU Distinguished Alumni Award Program.
Nancy Wolff, College of Human Development and Education
- Wolff, BS '99, corporate and community fitness, is the senior vice president for development for the Southwest Affiliate of the American Heart Association.
Marvin E. Jensen, College of Engineering.
- Jensen, BS ’51, MS ’52, agricultural engineering, honorary degree '88, had a diverse career in engineering. In retirement, he’s still considered one of the foremost experts in irrigation and water management.
Amy Jacobson, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
- Jacobson, BS '09, women and gender studies, is the North Dakota public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood – Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Michael D. Tokach, College of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Natural Resources
- Tokach, BS '86, animal and range sciences, is a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry at Kansas State University.”