Rancho Santa Fe resident helps SAIC earn top honors

By Kathy Day

Kathy Hedges came up through the technical ranks at SAIC — one of the first women to do so with the well-known defense contracting company founded in San Diego.

Today the Rancho Santa Fe resident is a senior vice president and director of program execution and controls. That means she has oversight of the 9,000 programs the company conducts, from training, process and tools to best practices, support and troubleshooting.

She also has a hand in making sure the company gets the recognition it deserves and recently wrote the nomination for the Aviation Week Program Excellence Awards. As it turned out, SAIC was one of seven winners in the annual competition. It was recognized in the Sub-System Level Research and Development/System Development and Demonstration category for its Third Generation InfraRed System/Commercially Hosted Infrared Program — or 3GIRS/CHIRP.

That’s a fancy name for a space surveillance system, described as a “Wide Field of View staring sensor,” that is designed as payload to work within an existing commercial spacecraft.

Because the project is classified, Hedges could not elaborate, saying, “You can imagine what it’s surveying.”

The project was headed by Thomas “Tav” Taverney, SAIC’s director of space systems programs, and Doug Loverro, executive director of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. It was developed on a tight time frame with a goal of “providing the best capability from space while significantly lowering the cost,” according to Hedge’s nominating narrative.

Hedges’ husband, Russ Loftman, who is an electro-optics engineer she met years ago while he was a subcontractor on an SAIC project, was a consultant to the 3GIRS/CHIRP team.

Aviation Week’s press release announcing the awards stated, “The Program Excellence initiative once again identified lessons learned and best practices, with a particular focus on accurate assessment, the ability to alter direction, and execution with speed to drive out cost.”

For Hedges, those objectives have been at the center of her career. A specialist in program management, she has been recognized by the Project Management Institute as one of 25 “Influential Women” in the field. She grew up in Santa Monica and attended Pepperdine University for her undergraduate degree in statistical social science and earned an MBA at George Mason University.

She returned to Santa Monica to work for the Rand Corp. but when a piece of the company split off to join SAIC, she was part of that team. She’s been at SAIC for 32 years, 20 of them in her current role.

Today, in addition to her work with the company – which is now based in McLean, Va., but still has a significant presence in San Diego — she teaches program management at UCSD.

“I’m trying to get students interested in this field,” she said. “This educational opportunity didn’t exist when I went to school.”

While she somehow finds time to raise orchids and pursue her family’s genealogy, she said she has always tried to get her two stepchildren and now the couple’s four grandchildren interested in technology.

Specifically, she said, program management is a “great opportunity and absolutely interesting career.”