Since leaving the Pittsburgh area more than 30 years ago, Rear Adm. Cindy "CJ" Jaynes has risen to the highest peacetime naval rank.
The Vandergrift native and graduate of Mount Pleasant High School was in Pittsburgh on Friday during the city's observance of Navy Week to meet with several groups and encourage elementary students at the Carnegie Science Center to consider careers in science.
Adm. Jaynes' journey to the Navy began in 1983. She received a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1979, followed by a master's degree, and joined the Navy on a whim after teaching for four years.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do when I grew up, and 31 years later I still haven't figured out what I want to do when I grow up," she said Friday.
She has specialized in aeronautical engineering, maintaining operations of the aircraft. As program executive officer for Air Anti-Submarine Warfare, Assault and Special Mission Programs, she is in command of P8 and P3 planes, which perform anti-submarine warfare, as well as D22, H1 and H53 assault aircraft.
From her beginning job with an operational squadron, repairing aircraft and launching them, she rose to her present command in Maryland.
"Every step along the way as you progress through the ranks got a little more challenging. I gained more experience and had more responsibility," she said. "At times I had anywhere from three to 1,100 sailors that I was responsible for, along with the budgets that went along with operating those aircraft."
Currently, Adm. Jaynes oversees the maintenance of Marine One, the president's helicopter fleet.
The message of constant change and dedication is what she conveyed to the children at the science center.
Ann Metzger, co-director of the center, said having mentors in STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- is an important factor in a child deciding to go into those fields.
Ron Baillie, also co-director of the center, said this is especially true for young girls. He said boys tend to like math because of the problem-solving aspect, whereas girls need to see how they can apply math in a way to change the world.
In 2011, women made up nearly half of the work force, but only 26 percent of the STEM workforce, according to the Census Bureau.
"We need to inspire these young people to consider a career in STEM-related fields," Ms. Metzger said. "It's important not just to our economic prosperity but to our national defense."
Adm. Jaynes echoed that sentiment. She works with middle school girls in Maryland about using STEM skills in the military.
"We talk to young boys as well but we really focus on the young girls because at that point they're starting to make their career choices," she said. "We encourage them if they really have something they are passionate about, to not be afraid to take those classes."
Adm. Jaynes, who was the first female admiral at the Navy's Air Systems Command Center in Maryland, also met with women executives in the Pittsburgh area Thursday to discuss not being held back by old stereotypes and how it is possible to raise a family and be a professional.
"I'm a single mom," she said. "But I'm able to balance a career and raise a child and it doesn't impact either."
During her career in the Navy, Adm. Jaynes said she never felt held back.
"But I don't take no for an answer," she added.
Sarah Schneider: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1497.