African American engineers blaze impressive career trails
“It’s amazing to design something and have it come to fruition.” – Nicole Reid, GDEB
Rotation programs and coaching by experienced colleagues help jumpstart the careers of new engineers
By Sonya Stinson
From developing microelectronic instruments to designing roads, African American engineers are blazing impressive career trails in a wide range of industries. Many employers of engineers say they have plenty more exciting jobs to fill.
The human resources professionals at General Dynamics Electric Boat (EB, Groton, CT) work closely with the company’s Black Engineering Council to boost the recruitment and retention of African American engineers.
“As we ramp up to design the U.S. Navy’s next-generation submarine here at EB, we expect to hire between 200 and 300 engineers per year for the next several years,” says Robert H. Nardone, VP of human resources and administration. “This is a ship that will serve until the 2080s and face challenges we can’t even imagine today, which calls for innovation and imagination. A diverse workforce will be key to providing us the range of technical viewpoints we are going to need to succeed in this program.”
Judy Sugiyama, director of global staffing, says there is ongoing demand for mechanical, electrical, process and manufacturing engineers at Applied Materials (Santa Clara, CA), a provider of innovative equipment, services and software for advanced semiconductor, flat panel display and solar photovoltaic products.
“We seek employees who are collaborative, enjoy working as part of a team, possess a positive attitude and have a thirst for innovation,” she says, “all keys to success at Applied. We also understand the importance of developing a culture that fosters risk taking, speed of execution and outstanding teamwork to support an innovative environment. These attributes help our employees and company succeed and take our customer relationships, technology and product development to new levels.”
Applied Materials encourages career development, offering targeted career ladders and internal and external technical seminars, conferences and workshops.
“One of our company’s greatest assets is the diversity of our global workforce,” says chairman and CEO Mike Splinter. “The breadth and variety of our employees’ backgrounds, skills and experience fuel creativity and innovation, making Applied Materials a vibrant place to work.”
A diverse workforce strengthens businesses
New hires will find a supportive and stimulating environment at Ingersoll Rand (Davidson, NC), says Neddy Perez, VP of diversity and inclusion. The company provides products, services and solutions to enhance the quality and comfort of air in homes and buildings and protect food and perishables during transportation.
“The more we can learn from, collaborate with, and include people from different backgrounds and cultures, the stronger our businesses are in developing and executing new products and services that reflect our communities and customers’ needs,” says Perez.
“Ingersoll Rand and its brands offer outstanding career opportunities for engineering professionals,” notes John Cobb, director of human resources at Ingersoll Rand. “Engineers enjoy working collaboratively with colleagues from around the world to create customer solutions that dramatically improve the quality of life. They appreciate being able to generate progress by designing new things and then being able to see them operate in our state-of-the-art test facilities. Our engineers like the opportunity to be hands-on, and they value a work environment where continuous learning and personal development are emphasized.”
At Caterpillar (Peoria, IL), the continuing need for engineering talent mirrors the nation’s high demand for graduates in all STEM majors.
“Electrical engineers have exciting career opportunities at Caterpillar,” says Nan Macari, who serves as engineering talent pipeline
manager in product development and global technology. “Our machines are powered as much by software as they are by fuel.” The company manufactures construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives.
“Mechanical engineers also have a wide variety of challenging career options,” Macari adds. “For instance, our engineers simulate the loads and soil interface of our machines to explore areas of improvement in efficiency, productivity and durability. Our earth mechanics experts use both sophisticated scale model testing and refined computer models to simulate virtually every material a Cat machine blade encounters anywhere in the world, including soil, trash, asphalt and snow.”
Several African Americans have already launched promising careers with these and other engineering employers.
Nicole Reid is a civil engineer at GDEB
Nicole Reid is an engineer in the internal structures department at General Dynamics Electric Boat. She works in New London, CT. She joined the company in October 2012, and recently completed her first rotation in its technical exploration (Tech-X) program. She’s excited to start her next one.
Tech-X introduces new hires at EB to the inner workings of a niche industry that most outsiders, even trained engineers, know little about.
“Building a submarine isn’t exactly something that’s taught in school,” says Reid. She received both her 2009 BS in environmental engineering and civil engineering and her 2012 MS in civil engineering from Florida A&M University (Tallahassee).
The Tech-X experience gave Reid a chance to research new technologies that might be part of future submarine design and to meet and learn from more experienced co-workers and upper managers. For her next rotation, she hopes to be assigned somewhere close to the shipyard at company headquarters.
Growing up, Reid wanted to be a lawyer, but her career interest shifted when she got introduced to the world of engineering through US FIRST Robotics competitions and similar programs at her magnet high school. In college, she started out as an EE major and explored psychology and social work majors before settling on civil and environmental engineering.
“It’s just an amazing field to me,” she says, “to be able to design something and have it come to fruition, to be able to see a building or a bridge erected or, in this case, a submarine. Here at EB, I design foundations for the internal structures. It’s a lot more like designing a building than I thought, but much more intricate.”
Titilope Sule is a systems engineer at Thermo King
At Thermo King (Minneapolis, MN), a brand of Ingersoll Rand that makes transport refrigeration systems, Titilope Sule is assigned to the President’s Platform, a new refrigeration model that launched in January 2013.
“It’s the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on,” says Sule, who is a systems engineer. “I’ve been involved in the entire design process and the entire product development process from the very beginning.”
Sule develops the software algorithms that make it possible to automate the temperature control of the containers.
“If you are holding produce and you want your set point to be at twenty degrees,” she says, “I do the design work behind the scenes to start the engine and fix the valves to get your temperature to that set point.”
Originally from Nigeria, Sule earned a BS in electronics engineering technology at Texas Southern University (Houston) in 2005 and an MSEE at the University of Maryland-College Park in 2007. As an undergrad, she completed two internships at a locomotives company that hired her as a software developer when she got her degree. She joined Ingersoll Rand in 2010.
Sule’s father and several other relatives are engineers, but initially she wanted to be a doctor. “I changed my mind after a biology experiment that didn’t go very well,” she says with a smile.
On the other hand, she was fascinated by the experiments in her physics class, like the one where they turned on light bulbs by connecting them to batteries. “That sparked my interest in the electronics field,” she notes.
Leaders at Ingersoll Rand take a personal interest in guiding Sule’s career development, she says. “I discuss my development plan every year with my managers, to inform them about where I’d like to go and come up with a plan for how to get there. For example, I started the Ingersoll Rand corporate MBA program this fall. That’s one of the steps to get to my next level of responsibility: product management.”
Jonathan Grant is a civil engineer at HNTB
Jonathan Grant works in the roadway group out of the Lake Mary, FL office at engineering consulting firm HNTB (Kansas City, MO). He helps design new roads and assists the firm’s project managers in designing projects.
The job varies greatly from day to day. “I’m not very often doing the same thing,” he says. “I’m learning something new every day.”
Grant started at HNTB as an intern in March 2011 and was hired full time after graduation in December 2012. He has a BS in civil engineering from the University of Florida (Gainesville).
“The internship definitely gave me a great leg up in the company,” he says. “They already knew me, and they knew my experience.”
Grant saw HNTB as a fast growing company with opportunities to advance fairly quickly. And he was impressed with the company’s support for employees preparing for the professional engineer (PE) license exam.
“I’d love to pass the PE within the next few years,” he says. Engineers, he notes, must have four years of work experience before taking the exam. “I’m also thinking about the possibility of pursuing a masters while continuing my work here.”
Occasionally Grant’s duties require a long road trip to a job site or to a meeting with colleagues. “We were sent to Miami last year for some inspections,” he says. He considers these commutes a challenging but enjoyable aspect of his job.
The travel is not new to Grant. During his internship, he commuted a hundred miles between Gainesville and Lake Mary. “That was a long drive, but it was definitely worth the trip,” he says.
Shanee Pacley is a materials scientist at AFRL
Shanee Pacley specializes in the study of carbon nanomaterials and two dimensional materials. She’s been a materials scientist at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH) since 2001, when she started as an undergraduate co-op student.
“It was great, because it gave me a lot of hands-on experience in the lab,” she says. “It was awesome having that day-to-day interaction with other scientists and engineers in the field.”
She earned her BS in materials science and engineering at Wright State University (Dayton, OH) in 2003. After receiving her MS in materials engineering from the University of Dayton (OH) in 2006, Pacley converted to fulltime employee with the Air Force. She later returned to the University of Dayton for her PhD, which she completed in May 2012.
Pacley’s doctoral research was in carbon nanopearls, and she’s featured in a video on the National Defense Education Program’s LabTV (ndep.us/LabTV), talking about how these materials are grown. As she explains in the video, nanopearls are made up of tiny flakes of heptagonal, pentagonal and hexagonal carbon rings that link together like a pearl necklace. Scientists and engineers are examining many potential uses for nanopearls, including making better flat-panel television screens.
Initially, Pacley wanted to be a chemical engineer. She chose materials science and engineering after being introduced to the field as a high school student in Wright State University’s Science, Technology and Engineering Prep-aratory Program, called Wright STEPP.
Looking ahead, she plans to reach back to help new students in Wright STEPP whenever she can and perhaps do some adjunct teaching in her field.
Whatever her next project may be, she says, “I always want to grow. Even though I’ve finished my PhD, I always want to continue learning.”
Yvonne Edmonds is a product development engineer at KLA-Tencor
Yvonne Edmonds is in the systems engineering group at KLA-Tencor (Milpitas, CA). The company provides process control and yield management tools and technologies for the semiconductor, LED and other microelectronic industries.
As a product development engineer, Edmonds analyzes data on the performance of KLA-Tencor tools to help improve products that are already in the field. Her work is also useful in designing next-generation products. “We keep the tool healthy,” she says. “We test and qualify each component.”
Edmonds received a BS in physics in 2004 from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. She went on to earn a 2006 masters and 2011 PhD in physics at Stanford University (CA).
As a grad student, Edmonds was part of the research team working on the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope project. The experience provided a good foundation for her current work. “It was the same skill set, just different subject matter,” she says.
One key difference between doing research in academia and in industry, however, is that she now has to consider factors beyond pure science when it comes to problem solving.
“You have to think about so many other elements,” she explains. “How are you going to manufacture something? How are you going to locate the supplier? How are you going to support the product in the field? There are so many different groups that have a stake in what you’re doing. The solution isn’t just about science.”
After two years at KLA-Tencor, Edmonds is looking forward to seeing one of the company’s products through its entire lifecycle, from the initial investigation to supporting the finished product in the field.
“That takes several years,” she says. “I think that once I’ve done that, I can figure out what I’m best suited to do.”
Kelli Stokes: regional director of global IS at Caterpillar
Kelli Stokes is regional director of global information services at Caterpillar’s Seguin, TX location. She’s been at her corporate post since December 2012.
“My team supports the manufacturing facilities for several Caterpillar divisions,” she says. “Our jobs are to support the information technology needs of the facility, all work ranging from infrastructure support through business process management and reporting.”
Previously, Stokes was a facility manager in Caterpillar’s Seguin engine plant, part of the large power systems division. That assignment followed a stint as the company’s global diversity director in Peoria, IL.
Stokes spends two to three weeks each month traveling to Caterpillar manufacturing sites. Learning about the company’s business operations and interacting with employers, vendors and suppliers is the most interesting part of her job, she says.
She earned a BS in operations management from the University of Delaware (Newark) and an MS in the same field from Monmouth University (Monmouth, NJ).
Her work as an undergrad, including a job at an automobile plant, provided valuable career preparation and served as a confidence booster.
“My most difficult job assignments taught me the greatest lessons,” she notes. “Some of these experiences were not my most successful accomplishments, but they taught me the most about operating in a business environment and about my beliefs in what I have to offer.”
In the next five years, Stokes would like to be a leader at one of Caterpillar’s facilities. “In my previous roles, I learned I thoroughly enjoy the day-to-day challenges of running a facility,” she says.
Olufemi Ajewole: structural engineer at Bechtel
Olufemi Ajewole traces his interest in civil engineering back to his childhood fascination with tall buildings and a penchant for deconstructing things to study them.
“As a child I always liked to take things apart, Legos or whatever, and try to figure out why they worked the way they worked and put them back together,” he says.
Today he’s a structural engineer at the Reston, VA systems infrastructure location of Bechtel (San Francisco, CA). “My daily tasks include developing design packages for projects like a waste treatment plant in Washington State,” he says. “I also handle the day-to-day coordination of quality metrics for our engineering function.”
Ajewole earned his BS in civil engineering in 2010 at Lehigh University (Lehigh, PA), and his 2011 MS in structural engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, VA).
As an intern at Bechtel during the summer of 2011, Ajewole was tasked with working out new calculations for design projects in response to corrective action reports, which are issued whenever there is a change in procedure. He also revised field change requests. The calculations were very similar to the ones he now develops for the waste treatment plant design, he says.
Ajewole appreciates the way his more experienced co-workers take time to teach him the ropes. He got a sense of this supportive environment when he met the former Bechtel chief of civil engineering at a Virginia Tech career fair.
“She told me there weren’t any positions available, but to stay in contact,” he recalls. “We talked for about an hour about her experiences, what she’s been through during her career.”
That encounter influenced his decision to join the company. “I knew that no matter where I went I would get the technical experience,” he explains. “It was really about knowing the sort of people you’d be working with, and she gave me good insight into that.”
Wildoph Dorvil: global product manager at Applied Materials
Wildoph Dorvil’s job as global product manager for energy and environmental solutions at Applied Materials covers what he calls the four Ps of marketing: product, price, place and promotion.
“A critical responsibility in the product development phase is to set market requirements through customer engagements and in-depth market analysis,” he says. “Business and go-to-market strategies are formulated and used for pricing, placement and promotion of new products and technologies.”
Dorvil started his career as a process engineer in Applied Materials’ new college graduate rotational program. He completed two assignments during that four-month program, one in the corporate CTO’s office supporting the display business, and the other in the solar business group doing process development work.
Dorvil earned his 2008 BSEE and his 2010 MBA at Florida A&M University (Tallahassee). As an undergrad, he worked at a textile company doing equipment maintenance and troubleshooting. During his internship, the company was in the midst of a complete plant upgrade.
“I was fascinated by the plans for the new technology, equipment and automation, but I was more captivated by the business implications of the new upgrades,” he says. “Following this experience, I wanted to learn more about how companies turn technology into profits, and I knew I wanted to get a business degree.”
Dorvil is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Haiti. Given his inquisitive nature, it’s not surprising he became an engineer.
“I made a habit of taking apart my mother’s appliances and household electronics and trying to reverse engineer them,” he remembers with a smile. “My success rate, of course, wasn’t all that great, and you can imagine how unhappy that made my mother. But she knew deep down that I was only satisfying my curiosity, and that I was already preparing for the bright future I have today.”
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