CSUN Was a Launchpad for Distinguished Alumna Patricia Maloney

  • Patricia Maloney was honored with a 2017 CSUN Distinguished Alumni Award for her outstanding work in the STEM field. Photo by Lee Choo.

In the spring, California State University, Northridge alumna Patricia Maloney ’80 (Chemistry) returned to campus. She was a few months away from being honored as one of CSUN’s 2017 Distinguished Alumni.

She stopped by professor Eric Kelson’s Chemistry 321 Quantitative Analysis class and spoke to the students briefly. Toward the end of her talk, she looked around for a second. It took her back to the late 1970s when she was in a chemistry class at CSUN. She was one of three females in the class. Then her mind shifted back to the present.

“I’m glad there are so many women in this class,” she remarked. Maloney was one of a few when she studied, and one of a small group in her industry when she started her career. She now serves as an inspirational figure for women in STEM.

Maloney is the Principal Director for Joint Operational Programs in the NASA Programs Division at The Aerospace Corporation, which provides technical and scientific research, development, and advisory services to national-security space programs. She was named Aerospace’s 2005 Woman of the Year.

She manages relationships and oversees a team working with some of the most noteworthy partners in The Aerospace Corporation’s portfolio — including NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Corporation.

Prior to this prestigious position, she worked in an equally demanding and high-responsibility job. She worked for Mobil Oil and served in numerous leadership capacities where she traveled (and in some cases lived) across the map for the global giant. She was a critical figure for the company during the Gulf War as its Worldwide Trading Coordinator and balanced the entire supply of Mobil’s crude oil during the crisis.

CSUN, Maloney said, helped take her there.

She recalled a story about her days after graduation when her father, Army Colonel James Maloney was on a ladder outside the family home clearing leaves out of the rain gutter.

“Imagine it’s a summer day in Woodland Hills, California,” Maloney said, recounting her story. “It’s a few days after my graduation in 1980, and my dad was up on a ladder repairing — I think it was the gutters — and I’m down below, handling tools and parts and we’re talking life. … And I didn’t have a job at the moment, so dad sort of says to me, ‘What did you learn at CSUN?’

“And after thinking about it for a few seconds, I said, ‘I think I learned how to attack a problem,’” she said. “And dad said, ‘Well, if that’s what you learned, you’ll be fine.’”

Maloney’s intent upon enrollment at CSUN was to become a math teacher. However, she grew passionate about the physicality and creative process of chemistry. She was one of the first participants in CSUN’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) group, which was chartered at the university in the spring of 1976. And she was a star in the classroom. 

“We like to think that our students are good at analytic thinking, and most of them go into some field of chemistry. Patty was different. She was a leader in the chemistry club and sort of a cheerleader for the whole department,” said Henry Abrash, CSUN professor emeritus of chemistry and biochemistry. “I often referred to her as the department spark plug. Good things happened when she was around.”

After graduation, Maloney took her first job as an associate research engineer at Arco Solar in Chatsworth. She recalled making $17,100 annually in the beginning. She was charged with finding ways to efficiently and more cost-effectively develop non-silicon solar cells.

Maloney then decided to go east where earned her MBA from the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

She began working for Mobil Oil and quickly the global giant noticed her talent and leadership skills and tapped her to work in numerous capacities.

“The best job I ever had was trading coordinator,” she said. “It was so action packed, where I say that I saw Mobil’s whole world. I had the whole view of our refining and supply in front of me and I had to balance it.”

Maloney worked in other capacities, such as corporate planning and manufacturing and refining planning. Her travels eventually took her to Jakarta, Indonesia where in 1998 she had to eventually evacuate during violent riots in the country.

“I was in an apartment complex and we get the call to grab the important stuff and leave,” she recalled. “We were put into convoys loaded to an undisclosed location. Driving through you could see fires and machine guns. We ended up at the military airport in Jakarta and sent to Singapore.”

In 2000, Maloney left Mobil, but she also left a significant impact, said Nancy Lin — who also served in numerous leadership capacities, including strategic planning senior advisor for Mobil and what later became ExxonMobil.

“We started out working together in 1984,” Lin began. “She joined Mobil as a summer intern fresh out of Tuck, and I still remember what she looked like the first day. Bright-eyed. So bright, fully engaged, asking questions, fully taking ownership of her desk and asking people questions like, ‘Couldn’t we do this? Why can’t we do this?’ And pushing everyone, pushing seasoned colleagues to have to pause and answer why something couldn’t be done, or have to admit, ‘Gee, I never thought of it that way. Let’s give it a try.’ So she took ownership from day one.”

In 2001, a new opportunity arose in a different environment. She was brought in to work for the nonprofit The Aerospace Corporation. She began working in a group called the economic marketing analysis center for the corporation. After a year, she was the director of the group.

Maloney takes great pride in leading the development of Aerospace’s “Smarter Buyer” course, which taught high-level government officials about finance and corporate strategic planning to help them better understand the private sector and build partnerships.

Today, Maloney manages about 40 people whose expertise is vital for NASA and the Air Force.

Maloney, who lives in Virginia, still keeps CSUN close.

She has long given to many causes — faith-based and education being the nearest and dearest to her. But she also created the Patricia A. Maloney Student Travel Endowment in CSUN’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The endowment provides funding to send students to national conferences where they display and speak about their work in a public setting, thus elevating their drive and confidence.

“It’s community. We’re not here for ourselves,” she said. “We’re here to make the world a better place and have good relationships to make sure there’s a next
year. If you’ve been blessed like I have [been] financially, you give back.”

On April 29, she was recognized for all she has accomplished and what she represents to CSUN as one of three recipients of the 2017 Distinguished Alumni
Award, alongside investment banking titan Milton Berlinski and reality TV trailblazer Mike Darnell.

“CSUN took what my parents had birthed and gave it so much more, and engendered that so that an education at CSUN launched me, well, into the stars, because I do work on satellites,” Maloney said that evening.

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