Native Americans advance as technical professionals
“Natives do well with new technology. We’re good at adapting
to our surroundings and figuring out what will work!” – Harold H. Yazzie, Boeing
Native American affinity groups provide a chance to network with peers and share work experiences. They’re part of many companies' diversity-friendly environments
Angela M. Hutchinson
More than ever before, technical companies are working to attract talented Native American professionals. With ongoing support from top management, Native engineers, IT pros and scientists are stepping up to seize opportunities for long-term career advancement.
Many companies have diverse employee affinity groups to help with recruiting and career development for Native employees and other diverse groups. “We are actively working to recruit and retain Native American employees and to utilize Native American suppliers,” says Fanee B. Harrison, director of cultural diversity and inclusion at the Boeing Co (Chicago, IL).
“We partner with our Boeing American Indian Society affinity group on both internal and external efforts to recruit Native Americans for engineering, finance and other positions key to our company’s success.”
Ernest L. Hicks, manager of corporate diversity for Xerox Corp (Norwalk, CT), notes that “Our commitment to an inclusive workplace for Native Americans and all minorities is reflected in professional development, training and support programs. We feel that a company that embraces diversity will better understand this diverse world.”
Alaska Native Dr Marvin McCallum leads research at Battelle
For the past twenty-one years Dr Marvin McCallum has worked in the Seattle, WA office of Battelle (Columbus, OH), probably the world’s largest nonprofit research organization. He’s currently managing Battelle’s center for human performance and safety. “Our group conducts R&D aimed at making sure complex sociotechnical systems accommodate the cognitive and physical capabilities and limitations of people,” McCallum says.
That, he explains, means “We provide R&D services to help system designers and operators design jobs, work environments, system displays and controls that match the capabilities of the people who operate and maintain them.”
He’s currently managing a project co-funded by the federal government and petroleum pipeline operators. The idea is to help operators manage human-factor risks that affect the control of flow through their pipelines.
The most difficult aspect is “convincing engineers that even though people are basically subjective it is possible to systematically assess and manage the risks,” McCallum explains with a smile. He enjoys working as a change agent to improve the safety and effectiveness of operations.
McCallum’s father is an Alaska Native Aleut and his mother comes from a northern European heritage. McCallum himself is “not easily identifiable as an Alaska Native.
“The Aleuts,” he explains, “were one of the more heavily colonized indigenous populations in North America. As a result most Aleuts have some Russian and northern European ancestry.”
Like many Alaska Natives at the time, his father was uprooted during World War II. “His first exposure to the ‘lower 48’ was in a Navy uniform in Seattle, WA, where my parents met and married during the war.”
McCallum grew up in Seattle, but from the age of ten he spent his summers living and working on his father’s commercial fishing boat, out of a small fishing village in the Aleutian Islands. “After ten summers of commercial fishing in the Aleutians, I spent another ten years running commercial salmon boats in Puget Sound in the summer and early fall.”
That work prepared him to “persevere through hard times, appreciate the value of teamwork, and recognize the practical value of a good theory.”
His bicultural upbringing, he thinks, led to his passion for areas like human cognition, research design and human factors engineering. In 1974 he received a BS in psychology from Western Washington State University. In 1978 he added an MS in experimental psychology, followed by his 1980 PhD in experimental psychology, both from the University of New Mexico.
“That education gave me research skills that I could apply in conducting human performance R&D, which is what I’ve been doing ever since.
“The most appealing aspect of Battelle is that it defines success on the basis of the benefit of its activities to society,” says McCallum. “Battelle is an environment where teamwork, long-term investment and societal value come first.”
He finds a diverse work group stimulating. “Different backgrounds and experiences provide the basis for defining issues from different perspectives, which is the key to developing creative solutions,” he declares.
“The unique contribution and worth of individuals is a recognized core value at Battelle. In a traditionally ‘white guy’ field, this organization recognizes the real value of workforce diversity.”
Navajo Harold H. Yazzie is a design engineer at Boeing
Harold H. Yazzie has been with Boeing since 2005. He’s a design engineer, developing CAD models and creating blueprints for the Apache Longbow helicopter, a role aircraft built for the U.S. Army and other defense forces. Yazzie devotes long hours to checking specs from Boeing and across the industry to make sure the right ones are being used. “Most of my time is
spent on the CAD system,” he says.
A full-blooded Navajo, Yazzie was born and raised on the reservation near Tuba City, AZ. He and his six siblings were encouraged to explore and get to know the land, which may have contributed to his interest in technology, he says. “But my actual introduction to engineering was from my uncle. He majored in engineering and helped me choose it as a field of study.”
He thinks that “Native Americans have a great opportunity to be involved with engineering companies that are designing new technology. Adapting to our surroundings and figuring out what will work is something that we do well.”
Yazzie got his BSME from Northern Arizona University in 1993. After developing CAD skills and other expertise at industries including mass transportation and aerospace, he joined Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems business to work on the next-generation Apache. “The Apache is what appealed most to me,” he says. “It’s the most advanced combat helicopter for the U.S. military.
“I am on the Apache drive systems team, and everyone on the team is a company and industry expert. I am proud to be on a team that is helping our soldiers on the battlefield.”
Yazzie notes that the biggest challenge for him as a Native American technical pro is being aggressive and finding his next career step. “Aggressiveness is not generally part of my culture, but the only way to get past that is to overcome it!” He’s confident that his career path will be at Boeing.
Wyandot Jacklin Adams is a senior tech staff member at IBM
After ten years in the plastics industry, Jacklin Adams joined IBM in 1991.
She works in Research Triangle Park (Durham, NC) for IBM’s integrated
In addition to her role of senior technical staff member for the center of excellence for environmental compliance, she’s chair of IBM’s center of excellence for product environmental regulations. In her environmental compliance role Adams is responsible for technical logistics, management systems, assessment and development of alternative technologies for IBM products relative
to the restriction of hazardous substances.
Adams manages a team of more than thirty in a style she calls “team-based leadership.
“We work together to understand regulations worldwide and investigate alternative engineering and information technologies to keep IBM and its suppliers and customers in the forefront of environmental compliance.”
Adams is a Wyandot Indian, a member of the Wyandot tribe of Kansas. Her father is full Indian and her mother is Lebanese. In 1991 Adams got her BS in plastics engineering from the University of Massachusetts.
She originally joined IBM as a plastics and materials engineer, and co-developed a process for identifying and developing recycled resins for business machine and PC applications. She’s written papers and collected a number of patents. She managed tape and disk-drive engineering teams for five years before she took on the leadership of her present team.
Adams’ cultural background has been both an asset and a challenge to her career, she reflects. “Growing up Native, I was taught to respect my elders. But throughout my career mostly everyone I’ve worked with has been older, so at the start I tended not to argue even when I was sure I was right. Eventually I learned it is okay to be confident in my abilities, and now I go ahead and explain my conclusions and suggestions.
“Of all the companies I interviewed with, IBM was the only one where I was interviewed by
a woman, and I saw more diversity here than at other companies,” Adams says. She believes that diversity brings great value to an organization. She’s a member of INDN, the IBM Indian Diversity Network, and actively recruits and mentors for IBM’s Native American new
Menominee Dana Miller is an ME in R&D at HP
Dana Miller has worked at HP for almost five years. As an ME in HP’s LaserJet business (Boise, ID), he supports R&D on mid-range HP Color LaserJet products.
“I work on a project team responsible for developing a single-function color LaserJet printer,” he explains. “I coordinate test activities based on requests from our team’s engineers, and I’m also responsible for managing our printer’s paper-path issues to resolution.”
Like most engineers, Miller enjoys the problem-solving aspects of the job. “There are new challenges every day. Our customers expect our new products to be faster and print sharper images than their predecessors and we do our best to make that happen. We spend countless hours working with data from our testing. You can sometimes spend an entire day poring
Miller is a Menominee; he grew up on the Menominee Indian Reservation in north-central Wisconsin. Both his parents were deeply involved in the tribe: his father was a purchasing manager at Menominee Tribal Enterprises and his mother was a licensed practical nurse at the tribal clinic. Miller attended schools on the reservation; he graduated from Menominee Indian High School in 1985.
He was thinking of going to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh for its outstanding electronics and instrumentation program, but instead he joined the U.S. Navy and became an electronics technician, specializing in the maintenance of an amphibious air traffic control radar system.
“I thought it was a good idea to join the Navy because I could learn a skill while getting paid, and being in the service would provide me with the motivation to study,” he says. After serving nine years in the Navy he got his discharge from active duty, and he’ll shortly retire with twenty-two years of service.
He spent a couple of years at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, taking classes required for a pre-engineering program. Then he transferred to UW-Madison to finish his ME. He chose the school for its “great engineering program and exposure to opportunities around the country.” He found a co-op with Kimberly-Clark and spent time in the ultrasonics lab at the company’s Neenah, WI R&D facility.
Then UW-Madison asked him to help recruit at the AISES national conference. “It was an incredible experience for me,” he recalls. “Seeing other Natives working on their engineering degrees just like me was very refreshing and inspired me to work on revitalizing UW-Madison’s AISES chapter.”
He also met up with HP at the AISES conference, and “They left me with the impression that they really valued diversity.” He already thought of the company favorably because of its membership on an advisory board at college, so he handed in his application and found a job at the Boise, ID site.
“I really enjoy working in the diverse environment at HP,” Miller says. “It’s really cool that on any given day I can hear people speaking Spanish, Japanese or Chinese.”
For the past few years Miller has served as a co-chair of the Boise site’s people of color employee resource group, which coordinates cultural events and activities.
Debby McIsaac, in charge of global inclusion and diverse talent in the HP people development group, says, “HP’s employee resource groups are an integral part of our diversity strategy and strengthen our company in many ways.”
Miller’s wife is a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe of Wisconsin. The couple have two children.
Plains Indian Mishelle M. Coldren is
an exec director in IT at Verizon
Mishelle M. Coldren has been at Verizon for fifteen years. Today she’s an executive director of IT program management for the company, providing oversight and support for strategic products, services and processes for the CIO and chief marketing officer.
“My main focus is bringing many of our new products to market across all Verizon’s business groups,” she explains. “I am involved in several programs where I follow the development of a product from the idea stage to delivery to the customer.
“It’s exciting to be there from the beginning of an idea, follow it to market and witness the positive responses from customers.”
Coldren’s background is in business. “As a former client of Verizon’s IT services, I know both sides and I’m in a great position to bring about resolutions to move a project forward,” she declares.
Coldren’s multiethnic heritage comprises Plains Indian, Hispanic and Irish. She also has a multicultural education: a BA in English with a concentration in anthropology and psychology from Indiana University, plus an MS in management from Indiana
“In the IT field I work with individuals across the globe, and my knowledge of psychology and anthropology helps me understand various points of view and communication differences: where people are coming from as they work through challenges.”
Cultural diversity is a great asset to the company, she believes. “Verizon proves that it values diversity in many venues, including the multicultural managers leadership initiative that I have supported for two years as a mentor.”
Spokane Indian Ricky Jennings is a
lead program manager at Microsoft
Ricky Jennings has been with Microsoft for seven years. He’s a lead program manager for Microsoft’s global foundation services, with a team that manages daily ops for MSN Internet Access (MSNIA). “My team also owns release and project management for on-boarding new services for MSNIA,” he notes.
He’s currently managing the deployment of two Facebook applications. “I enjoy working with MSNIA on new features and technologies and releasing them to the Web where millions of people can experience our work,” says Jennings.
Jennings is part Native American, part African American and part Caucasian. “It’s nice to work with other minorities,” he says. “I love meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures.
“Native Americans can benefit from using technology and incorporating it into their lives,” Jennings reflects. “Microsoft is great at recognizing diversity and really supporting people of different races and cultures.”
Before Microsoft, Jennings worked as an IT contractor for IBM, Intel and Microsoft. He has an associates degree from Renton Technical College (Renton, WA), where he studied electronics, servers and networking.
Mylene Padolina, Microsoft senior diversity manager, notes that the company supports a number of outreach initiatives to Native American communities. The company’s employee affinity group, for example, supports the United Indians of All Tribes foundation.
Chickasaw Michael David Engle
is a safety pro at Intel
In June 2000, Michael David Engle began working for Intel (Santa Clara, CA) in construction safety. Today he provides environmental, health and safety support for a 450-person Intel business unit responsible for back-end microchip processing in Aloha, Oregon.
“The support we provide can range from answering someone’s question on a simple safety issue, to working with senior management to implement programs that will influence the overall culture of the organization,” Engle says. “Actually, most of my time is spent partnering with people to try to create a culture in which injuries can be prevented.”
Engle was drawn to Intel for the opportunity to make a difference and learn. “Intel has a very mature safety culture that is recognized worldwide.”
Besides, he adds with a smile, “Intel gave me the chance to move to its Oregon site, a different part of the country for me. I really wanted to experience life outside of where I grew up.”
Born in Oklahoma and raised in Texas, Engle is a member of the Chickasaw Nation through his father. After he graduated from high school he wanted to go to work as a firefighter, but his parents encouraged him to continue on to college. In 2000 he graduated from Oklahoma State University with a BS in fire protection and safety engineering technology.
As he got deeper into his chosen subjects, he found that the safety aspect interested him even more than fire protection. He was delighted to begin a career in safety management with Intel.
Engle also took the opportunity to join the Oregon chapter of the Intel Native American Network (INAN), one of Intel’s twenty-one employee affinity groups. He was chair of the Oregon chapter for three years.
“Leading the chapter was a huge decision for me and resulted in a big change in my career and personal life. I did it because my manager was urging me to explore leadership opportunities,” Engle says.
“When the INAN opportunity presented itself I was anxious about it, but excited at the same time. Since then I’ve gotten into more leadership roles based on this highly successful experience.”
As a Native American, Engle says one of the biggest challenges in the workplace is finding other Natives to relate to. “There are not many Native Americans in engineering and the sciences,” he says.
“But Intel wants to foster a work environment in which people can be who they are. I have no problem telling people I’m Native American and active with INAN.”
Choctaw, Cherokee, Sac and Fox Dawna Bond is in systems at AT&T
Dawna Bond, a senior consultant in systems integration, has more than thirty years of service with AT&T. She supports billing process engineering for deployment of specific products and process/platform
Her work includes managing the projects of large cross-functional teams, and gathering and defining user system requirements in support of billing platforms. “I also develop process flows defining the business process, and help establish control points to assure quality and financial integrity,” she says.
Bond thrives on teamwork. “I prefer to work by consensus. I am very active and always busy; you might call me a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker.”
“The least favorite part of my job is adjusting to the ‘global clock,’ she admits with a smile. But she does like getting to know her international partners via conference calls.
Bond’s ethnic heritage includes French, Irish, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Sac and Fox. She grew up in a series of small towns in Washington State, riding horses, hiking and fishing. “My parents reinforced in me a desire to learn as much as I could about my environment,” she remembers with pleasure. “I think that translated to all aspects of my life: a desire to understand how and why things work the way they do, and the feeling that I had no limitations.”
Bond took communications courses at Seattle University and worked for AT&T in the summers. She was attracted by the security of the big company and the training programs and variety of business opportunities it offered.
“I knew I’d never be bored, and would have endless chances to learn new things and advance. And AT&T is a global company, so I’d literally have exposure to the world.”
She’s one of just a few Native Americans in her workplace, but “I can honestly say I’ve never felt ‘challenged’ at AT&T because of my heritage,” she declares. “In the global marketplace, my success and my team’s success are tied directly to our ability to work together. If we were unable to respect each other’s language and cultural differences, we simply could not deliver on our collaborative objectives.”
Belinda Grant-Anderson, VP of workforce development and diversity at AT&T, totally agrees. “In fostering diversity and inclusion, AT&T seeks to create a business environment that makes us an employer of choice, a preferred business partner and an important contributor to the community.”
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