Women We Admire has recognized Denise Nicholson, Ph.D., as one of the Top 50 Women Leaders of Orlando for 2024.


Dr. Denise Nicholson is Soar Technology’s (SoarTech) chief operating officer. She is an executive leader with over 30 years of experience, known for her technical expertise and business acumen that spans government, academia, and industry.


“It’s a real honor to be included as one of the Women We Admire,” Nicholson said. “This recognition is humbling, and I’m flattered to be in the same conversation as the talented women on this list.”


Women We Admire is a membership organization comprised of the most accomplished women executives and leaders in the U.S. and Canada. It provides news on women leaders in business, entertainment, sports, motherhood, medicine, law, and many other fields. Women We Admire covers a broad range of topics that recognize the achievements of exceptional women while inspiring others to aim high and continue their journey to reach their full potential.


Nicholson embarked on her career at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Rome Photonics Lab before rising to the position of deputy director of science & technology at NAVAIR Training Systems Division. Subsequently, she founded the Applied Cognition and Training in Immersive Virtual Environments Laboratory at the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Simulation and Training, where she held joint appointments in the Modeling and Simulation Graduate Program, Industrial Engineering and Management Department, and the College of Optics and Photonics. When Nicholson transitioned to industry, she was the founding general manager of DSCI – MESH Solutions, LLC.


Nicholson’s impact at SoarTech has been profound, particularly in her adeptness at conceptualization and her commitment to ensuring the successful execution of projects through strategic staff alignment. Notably, she has elevated the standard of business development within the company and has demonstrated excellence in managing the execution of projects, including a recent successful acquisition.


With a specialized focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, Nicholson’s contributions have significantly influenced various domains within the Defense Department. Her efforts span autonomy, training, simulation, as well as command, control, communications, computers, and information (C4I). This strategic concentration aligns perfectly with SoarTech’s goals and positions the company at the forefront of innovation within these critical sectors.

“As the head of the engineering team, she fosters an innovation-driven culture, achieving key performance indicators that significantly contribute to SoarTech’s growth,” according to Women We Admire’s website. “Nicholson’s multi-faceted background and strategic prowess position her as a key player in shaping the future of AI technology for the military’s toughest challenges. Her unwavering commitment to excellence and ability to lead mission-critical initiatives set her apart as a dynamic leader in the field, making her a driving force behind SoarTech’s success.”


Nicholson holds a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in optical sciences from the University of Arizona, complemented by a bachelor’s in electrical computer engineering from Clarkson University. Additionally, she is a graduate of the Naval Air Systems Command’s Senior Executive Management Development Program.


Beyond her role at SoarTech, Nicholson boasts a technical patent and over 100 publications in peer-reviewed journals, showcasing her expertise and leadership in the field. Since 1997, she has been a vital part of Team Orlando, serving as the STEM representative across various defense industry and modeling and simulation organizations. Her active participation includes key events such as the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, Women in Defense, and the National Defense Industrial Association.

Nicholson’s diverse engagement underscores her commitment to advancing the defense industry and modeling and simulation community, both locally and globally. Her dedication to promoting STEM education ensures continued innovation and inspires future generations in these critical sectors.


SoarTech is a spin-off of the AI Laboratory at the University of Michigan, rooted in cognitive science and innovative multidisciplinary research. With a deep understanding of human perception, memory, performance, learning, and emotion, SoarTech’s team of scientists and engineers from leading universities integrates domain knowledge analysis and systems engineering with user design features that perform like humans do.

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