This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner the Wake Forest Business Industry Partnership.

Wake Forest has an impressive roster of women powerhouses who are leaders in business, entrepreneurship and tech. The community is home to dozens of businesses, from companies that have both national and international reach to local mom-and-pop shops giving the town provincial flavor.

This variety isn’t limited to enterprise, it transcends to its population of professionals who work at these companies.

“Wake Forest seeks to be a progressive community where people from all walks of life may find opportunity,” said Jason Cannon, president of the Wake Forest Business and Industry Partnership. “A key part of our community is rooted in women who are taking innovative steps forward, whether that’s in business leadership, engineering or technology.”

Colinda Petrus moved to Wake Forest in 2016 after she accepted her position as the program manager at Ultra Electronics Ocean Systems, a defense tech company servicing the defense, security, transport, and energy industries.

Petrus leads a diverse team that is currently working on a $20 million contract for the United States Department of Defense as Ultra Electronics specializes in sonar torpedo defense systems. Working with a team of engineers, Petrus oversees the development of a test set of torpedoes and manages finances and logistics, to ensure the project is a success.

During its time in Wake Forest, Ultra Electronics has grown tremendously, outgrowing its original space.

As the company grew and won additional contracts, UE needed more square footage for development projects. The Town of Wake Forest worked with UE to build a second building, demonstrating its dedication to economic and workforce development in the community

“I think the Town was critical in helping UE grow,” Petrus said.

Petrus, who has a degree in engineering technology, said her interest in technology coupled with her love of interacting with people has made her a great fit for her role.

She noted that, for now, women are in the minority at Ultra Electronics, which is a reflection of the lack of women employed in defense technology in general. However, the women that she does work with are unsurprisingly driven and motivated.

“We’ve chosen this path and the women that I work with are strong — they know what they need to do to get the job done,” Petrus said. “The stigma of women in the workplace where they’re afraid to ask questions or seek support, isn’t true here. It’s been empowering with a group of women you can go to when you need support or when they need support. It’s been a very productive, proactive environment.”

Shruthi Soora, the senior staff engineer at the Wireless Research Center, also feels supported in her role at one of the most notable companies in not only Wake Forest, but in the region at large.

The WRC is a world-class applied wireless research and testing facility that provides services for engineering, antenna testing and commercialization. Soora described it as an “incredible place to work.”

“When companies come in and say, ‘I have this really cool idea, but how do I make it wireless and smart?’ We help them walk through that process of taking them from an idea, all the way to production,” Soora explained of her job. “Essentially, we try to be an extension of their team and help them navigate the process of making a product.”

Wake Forest was an early supporter of the WRC and continues to buoy both its work and its employees. Soora said many companies and organizations have benefitted from access to the WRC’s equipment and resources, and it’s rewarding to be in the middle of it all.

“Especially with our incubator space, we have a lot of companies that are housed in Wake Forest and have access to its equipment and expertise,” she said, referring to the WRC’s commercialization center. The center provides offices on a month-to-month basis for startup companies who want to operate within the WRC’s campus.

Additionally, Soora does her part to expose young girls (and boys) to the opportunities in tech that Wake Forest provides through community outreach.

“The WRC gets invited to different schools to speak about what it means to be an engineer — I think that’s the best way to let young students see what people do and what cool things are possible,” she said. “I went to school locally from elementary to high school, and I went to N.C. State. Just staying in this area and seeing how much it’s grown, and also being able to make a difference is rewarding.”

Petrus also described her job as rewarding and said it’s “exhilarating” to work in an industry and at a place where things change daily.

Soora’s advice for young girls and women pursuing careers in STEM is to not be afraid to bring their diverse perspectives. If Petrus and Soora are any indications, it seems Wake Forest is certainly shaping itself into a place where these diverse perspectives are being cultivated.

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner the Wake Forest Business Industry Partnership.