Lauren Goodwin: From NASA Engineer to BP Risk Executive

To hear Lauren Goodwin describe it, she wasn’t the typical Technology Management student. Goodwin worked at NASA performing systems engineering for the International Space Station as the high pressure oxygen and nitrogen lead. From that position, she moved onto roles in the oil and gas industry. The Houston-based executive was recently appointed to the role of Digital Security & Risk Officer, Global Projects Organization at BP. Goodwin is now in the executive suite at BP, and she credits this promotion to her time in Columbia's Executive Master of Science in Technology Management program. We talked with her about her experience in the program and how immersing herself in a new world of technology led to another dimension in her career.

How did you start studying with the Technology Management program?

All of my roles within NASA and oil and gas have had a technology aspect within them. If I had a business need, much of the time there were blocks that were put up from the IT side and I didn’t understand why. I told myself that I needed to understand more about this area so I could be better equipped to use these technologies, because I could see the opportunities that technologies could bring.

I was introduced to the program through Dr. Langer and he took the time to understand what my career goals were. He said, ‘If you ever want to be at an executive level, the Technology Management program is for you.’ To be honest, I gained so much from this program because I am not the conventional technology professional. I would encourage other people who aren’t technology professionals to explore and take this program because you will gain a respect and appreciation and knowledge about the various aspects of technology — cyber, data, legal, and financials.

Which areas of focus did you select?

Entertainment technology and cybersecurity. Entertainment technology is helping me with my master’s project, which includes virtual and augmented reality in gaming for learning. Don Marinelli is a phenomenal professor and really opens up possibilities for you to think differently about using virtual reality and considering what the impact is to a learner or to someone viewing and experiencing that type of world for the first time.

That has taken me from someone interested in [VR] to someone who has been exposed to a lot of different vendors and experts in this area that has supported my master’s project. I’m focused on building a learning gamification company using virtual and augmented reality. We have stepped outside of the traditional classroom setting, where you enter a virtual world and you learn through application. It can be trial and error, you just restart and you learn differently.

It’s helpful in oil and gas because we spend a lot of money on training. We’ll send new engineers out to an offshore rig in the middle of the ocean. This person doesn’t have any experience but they’re operating at a high hazard environment where safety risks are enormous. The goal for my company will be that you train them using virtual reality so you can simulate that rig environment. You can test that engineer. You can say, ‘Would this engineer know how to react if a blowout happened on the rig?’ If they can test and retest in a gaming environment, their retention and speed of acquiring that knowledge is much faster.

What about your experience in cybersecurity?

This area helps you be a better CISO [Chief Information Security Officer], and see the business side of this, and that the business is managing the cyber risk. Cybersecurity is not just an IT risk, it’s a business risk. This program is teaching us about not just preventing attacks, because that’s unrealistic. You have 20,000 attacks coming in within a day. It’s teaching you how to manage risk and make sure that we as CSOs or potential CSOs are equipped to think beyond checklists, scans, or security reporting. The program helps you think holistically about risk: how to mitigate it and prioritize it. Being able to understand what specifically to target for your business is critical.

Who is your mentor in this program?

Mark A. Stone, system CIO of Texas A&M University. He’s been a huge support system for me. This is one of the most unique aspects of this program, and one of the reasons that I chose this program. Our mentors have the experience that we don’t necessarily have or that we’re trying to acquire. Mine in particular has been there when I’ve needed him, whether it’s a question associated with my career or with my master’s project. It’s a very dynamic relationship. I appreciate the time that Dr. Langer spends in finding the right mentor for each student, as this is one of the best parts of the program.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Learn more about the Technology Management graduate program.