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Electrical Engineering

Christine M. Coldwell ’99 *00

Engineering Leader, National Security Agency

As a Princeton student, I was always inspired by the University’s informal motto, “Princeton in the Nation’s Service and in the Service of All Nations.” It was very apparent to me how that motto applied to my peers studying politics, policy, or international affairs, but as an engineer it was unclear how it related directly to my future career path. Now, more than a decade after graduating from Princeton and having entered government service, the relevance is incredibly obvious.

As a freshman at Princeton I intended to major in physics. I was passionate about physics and loved reading about cosmology and the origins of the universe. Although I found physics fascinating and did well in my classes, I realized that my talents and interests were more aligned with applied engineering studies, so I chose to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. I may not have realized it at the time, but the hours spent working on problem sets, thinking critically, learning creative, new ways to solve challenges, and working as part of a team toward a common goal prepared me in countless ways for my professional career path today.

A higher purpose

After graduating from Princeton I spent several years working in private industry, but I always felt drawn toward a higher purpose than the pursuit of sales revenue or the advance of stock prices. My Princeton education gave me the flexibility to shift career tracks and pursue a career in government where my goals were focused on security for our nation. I joined the National Security Agency (NSA) and am honored to serve our nation in this capacity. At NSA I lead a diverse technical team of civilians, contractors, and military personnel to accomplish the mission of our organization. My job requires a balanced mix of technical leadership and interpersonal skills to ensure that we are developing the right solutions while optimally managing team dynamics and customer expectations. 

Princeton prepared me for my career path by teaching me how to ask the right questions, uncover the subtle but crucial facts that matter, team with others effectively, and embrace diversity so that everyone’s strengths are applied to successfully solve challenges.

Now when I think of Princeton’s motto, my professional experience has shown me that our nation truly does depend on talented engineers and scientists in addition to policymakers, diplomats, and politicians. The technical contribution that engineers and scientists can make is paramount to the security of our nation and the world.

*An asterisk (*) and number following a person’s name denotes that the individual earned a graduate degree from Princeton in that year.