Math skills lead former Washougal woman to long-term mission with Navy

Western Washington graduate also was a hall of fame athlete

WASHOUGAL — The spark can start anywhere, that flash of inspiration.

Alison Richards did not know exactly where it would lead her, but she knew she was fascinated with math, with finding an answer.

Alison Richards, a 1995 graduate from Washougal High School who was then Alison Haukaas, was inspired by teachers from three school districts in Clark County to pursue her love for math. These days, she uses her math and engineering skills to work for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Keyport, Wa. Photo courtesy of Alison Richards
Alison Richards, a 1995 graduate from Washougal High School who was then Alison Haukaas, was inspired by teachers from three school districts in Clark County to pursue her love for math. These days, she uses her math and engineering skills to work for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Keyport, Wa. Photo courtesy of Alison Richards

That passion began when she was in the seventh grade, back when she was Alison Haukaas. Her love for math grew in high school. In all, she credits her “great teachers” from three school districts in Clark County for providing her with a foundation for her future.

She had no idea exactly where it would lead her, but she knew math was going to be a key vehicle in her life.

Today, Richards works on torpedoes. Yes, torpedoes.

Her official title as a civilian employee at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center — Division Keyport: Inservice engineering technical project manager.

“We support the fleet with their needs,” said Richards, who graduated from Washougal High School in 1995.

She has been on that mission for 17 years.
“What we do has the direct impact on the tools that are used. Make sure the tools are available and work when they are supposed to. That’s the focus,” she said. “When something needs to work, it needs to work. People are greatly depending on whether I’m building that structure behind it to make things work.”

Do not look for anything specific from Richards. She steers away from “details” when it comes to discussing her job. The sensitivity surrounding her occupation has other restrictions, as well.  

“We don’t really like cameras and people taking pictures,” she added. “I am a rule follower.”

That trait fits perfectly with Richards, working with the military, working with math.

She was a seventh-grader at Wy’east Middle School in Vancouver when it really bit her, that bug for math.

“There are many ways to get to the answer, but it’s not a subjective field. There’s an answer,” she said. “It fits my personality.

“At work, I’m a rule follower. There are a lot of procedures and policies and standards, rules, however you want to define them … how do you work within the rules? Having that structure fits my personality. I like the structure and definition. In math or anything.”

Alison Richards remains active, too. Here she is with her husband Scott after she completed the Niagara Falls International Marathon last fall. Alison will be inducted into Western Washington University’s Athletics Hall of Fame this spring. In 1998, she helped the Vikings to a national championship in softball. Photo courtesy of Alison Richards
Alison Richards remains active, too. Here she is with her husband Scott after she completed the Niagara Falls International Marathon last fall. Alison will be inducted into Western Washington University’s Athletics Hall of Fame this spring. In 1998, she helped the Vikings to a national championship in softball. Photo courtesy of Alison Richards

From Wy’east, she moved to Washougal High School. Her senior year, she took calculus at Camas in the first period, then finished the day back at Washougal. All were instrumental in her life.

“Primarily, it’s chalked up to having good teachers at Wy’east, Washougal, and Camas, for instilling that love for the field of study,” she said.

She also enjoyed playing softball. School came first, though. So when she started thinking about college, athletics was not the priority. She picked Western Washington University for its math program.

It just so happened, even though she was not recruited for softball, the Vikings needed some pitching help. That was her specialty, too.

Alison Haukaas was a “walk-on” to the team the fall of her freshman year. She became a star in her four years, setting 16 school records. In 1998, she was in the pitching circle leading Western Washington to a national championship.

Later this spring, she will be inducted into the Western Washington University’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

Getting the call from the hall was exciting, she said, and certainly nothing she could ever have imagined as a walk-on athlete.

The Vikings were a “bubble” team even to make the NAIA tournament in 1998. Once they were selected, they never looked back.

“That was a team that all the stars aligned,” she said. “You had confidence in everyone. The preparation we had for those games set you up for that success.”

She recalled days when the coach would hold a full practice just for one scenario, such as runners on first and third. For hours, the Vikings would work on that situation.

Yes, it did come up in the tournament, and the Vikings executed perfectly, Richards recalled.

The Vikings worked the problem throughout the season and had the solution when it was really needed.

She left Western with a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in mathematics. A friend of the family was being recruited to work for the Navy, and that interested her, as well. That led her to the undersea warfare center in Keyport.

An aerial view of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Keyport, Wa., where Alison Richards works. The former Washougal woman has worked for the Navy for 17 years. Photo used with permission from NUWC Keyport Division.
An aerial view of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Keyport, Wa., where Alison Richards works. The former Washougal woman has worked for the Navy for 17 years. Photo used with permission from NUWC Keyport Division.

Her then-new husband Scott found graduate work in Rhode Island, so Alison transferred to the warfare center in Newport. That is where Alison took advantage of the government’s education benefits, participating in Master of Science Systems Engineering through Naval postgraduate school.

The family returned to the Northwest. The Richards live in Poulsbo, and Alison is back at Keyport.

These days, there is a lot of emphasis put on educators to encourage girls to go into math and science. Richards said she never was discouraged to enter the field.

Her father, Paul, is an engineer.

“I can remember building a radio with kits,” she said. “My day said, ‘Hey, do you want to play with this thing?’”

The Navy has been great to her, too. In fact, she said most of her trainers and mentors in Rhode Island were women.

The math has become second nature for Richards. These days, there are times she wishes she had more of her mom’s skills. Marcia could make any hectic schedule work.

Alison and Scott have two children, an 11-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son.

“Now as a parent trying to get my kids to sports, I’m not quite sure how my mom did it,” Alison Richards said.

Of course, Alison Richards has learned, there is always an answer. Just have to find a way.

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