Alumna Christine Fox, Highest-Ranking Woman in the Pentagon, Describes Her Career Path

Posted: March 10, 2014 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: March 11, 2014 at 7:03 am

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By Buzz McClain

Alumna and Acting Deputy Secretary for Defense Christine Fox

Alumna and Acting Deputy Secretary for Defense Christine Fox speaks to students and faculty of the College of Science at the Fairfax Campus. Photo by Alexis Glenn

Mason alumna Christine Fox, BS Mathematics ’76 and MS Applied Mathematics ’80, was on campus last week as a featured speaker in the College of Science Dean’s Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series for students and faculty.

As the acting deputy secretary of defense under Secretary Chuck Hagel, she is the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in the Pentagon.

“I had no idea when I was at Mason that I would end up in a job like this,” she told an audience last week in Exploratory Hall, the building where current math majors are taking classes.

Encouraged by her nuclear engineer father, Fox pursued a career in math-based occupations until discovering “I had the ability to help others do their jobs better by analyzing.” Positions at think tanks lead to an appointment in 2009 as director of cost assessment and program evaluation for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

In December 2013, she was appointed to her current position, which she describes as “chief operating officer to the secretary of defense, who is the chief executive officer,” making decisions each day that affect 2.5 million employees around the globe in all military departments.

“It’s my job to see that things are moving smoothly in the direction [Hagel] has given us.” She also meets with congressional leaders and explains the rationale for the decisions, and she’s responsible for helping create the defense budget, which this year comes in at about a half trillion dollars.

Although she’s not comfortable talking about careers for women in STEM fields — “if it’s supposed to be gender-neutral then it truly doesn’t matter” — she described an early experience at Mason that solidified her bond to her chosen field. “We formed a group of very talented students — the others were all guys — and we tackled physics and math problems together. It was a genuine partnership on that team, and I learned the satisfaction of tackling complex things with a team.”

In this Mason Spirit 2005 profile, Fox talks about math, military analysis and her unusual connection to the movie “Top Gun.”

Write to Buzz McClain at bmcclai2@gmu.edu

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