When Christine H. Fox was deciding on her college major, she looked to her passion for the arts, mulling over studying theater, music or literature.
Unsure of what path to follow, she turned to her father who set her on her course.
Warren Russell Fox encouraged his daughter to major in mathematics.
Christine Fox recalled her father saying, “You’re good in math. If you can do the math, you can do anything.”
So she majored in mathematics at George Mason University in Virginia, and the rest is history.
Fox, the assistant director for policy and analysis at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, gave a talk entitled “More to Math: From Education to Real-World Application” about how her background in mathematics has shaped her professional career April 23 at the Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center.
Math “is a life passion because it has given me an ability to do what I call analysis, which is tackling complex problems for my entire career. I am wired to do that. I analyze everything. I analyze traffic patterns, I analyze when the flowers come up every spring, and it’s what I do and math enabled me to do that well,” Fox said in an interview before her talk.
After college, Fox spent 28 years at the Center for Naval Analyses, where she began her career as an analyst for naval fighter pilots at Naval Air Station Miramar (now Marine Corps Air Station Miramar) in San Diego.
There, she oversaw analysis of real-world operations, including the first Gulf War in the early 1990s and the military operations in Bosnia and Kosovo also in the ’90s; following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, she oversaw the operations in Afghanistan and in Iraq in early 2003.
Fox ended her time at the center as its president and the scientific analyst to the chief of naval operations.
She then went on to the U.S. Department of Defense, where she was the director of the cost assessment and program evaluation from 2009 to 2013. Fox analyzed and evaluated budgets, programs and plans relating to U.S. defense objectives and resource constraints.
In December 2013, Fox was appointed the acting deputy secretary of defense under President Barack Obama, where she was the highest-ranking female official in the department’s history. She was the acting secretary for six months until May 2014.
Fox is a three-time recipient of the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal and has also been the recipient of the Department of the Army’s Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service.
Fox still works closely with the Department of Defense in her role at the Applied Physics Laboratory. The APL conducts research on behalf of the Pentagon, NASA, the intelligence community and other federal agencies.
“I get to work on so many incredible things,” Fox said during her talk. “I get to work on space, I get to work on assured space operations … I get to work on the ethical implications of new technologies, technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics.”
The college’s math division hosted Fox’s talk, said Mike Long, HCC’s dean of mathematics.
“What we were looking for [in the talk] was how is math used beyond the class, how will students use math after they graduate,” Long said. “She [Fox] brings a very interesting perspective.”
Fox also met with students studying mathematics and engineering before the event at a dinner where they discussed, “Why is math fun and why don’t people understand that math is fun?” she said.
They talked about what they can do to showcase to people that math is fun and talked about the “strong connections” between math and the arts, she said.
Natalie Paley, an HCC student who is studying mechanical engineering, spoke after the talk with Fox, who encouraged Paley to keep going and pursue her academic and career goals.
Paley has been working in aerospace for the past decade and currently works for defense company Northrop Grumman.
At the end of her talk, Fox said to the audience: “I hope I have convinced you that you are extremely lucky to be studying math or any of the STEM [science, technology, engineering or mathematics] fields.”