Hispanic engineers stand out in defense
"There's never a dull moment. The defense industry is very exciting and gratifying." - Patricia Sanchez, Bell Helicopter Textron
"We bring a rich cultural background to the workplace." - Frank Flores, Northrop Grumman
By Angela M. Hutchinson
'We work in an industry with a noble mission. We are designing and producing the systems that will give our warfighters the advantage in fighting for our freedom and bring them home safely," says Frank Flores, an engineering VP with Northrop Grumman's integrated systems western region (ISW, Los Angeles, CA).
The U.S. census finds that Hispanics are the largest minority in the country. But they are still underrepresented in technical fields, making up less than 7 percent of the technical workforce. Nevertheless, "We bring a rich cultural background to the workplace, where excellence is measured by accomplishment and talent," Flores declares.
Defense industry dynamics
There's plenty of variety and technical interest at most defense-focused companies. Customers include the U.S. military, other government agencies, and security-focused civil branches, including firehouses and police stations.
Some engineers develop and troubleshoot highly classified programs and other new products and services. Others do the manufacturing, QA, maintenance and sales work associated with any production-involved business. Most techies find the dynamics of the industry interesting and rewarding, as they seek timely and cost-effective solutions to problems of national importance.
VP Frank Flores supports $3.5B sales at Northrop Grumman
As VP of engineering at Northrop Grumman's ISW, Frank Flores is responsible for supporting $3.5 billion in annual sales. His work is in manned and unmanned flight systems.
"Our program managers look to me to develop the infrastructure on which they can execute their programs, and our employees look to me to provide the environment in which they can excel professionally," he says.
Flores' grandparents immigrated from Mexico in the 1930s. "My grandfather always insisted on setting a life plan and a vision for the future," he says. Flores' technical interest was sparked by his father, an air-conditioning technician.
Flores earned a BSEE and MSEE at the University of Southern California. He's worked at Northrop Grumman and TRW in project engineering, functional management, business and program management. "Understanding who my customer is and focusing on meeting commitments has helped me move up in my career," he says.
His favorite mentor along the way was a program manager who taught him how to turn mistakes into great learning experiences. Flores believes that is the key to reaching your potential.
Flores is an active member of SHPE, the Society of Automotive Engineers and HENAAC. "Along the way, I was sometimes the only Hispanic in department meetings," he says.
"Initially I was intimidated, but as I demonstrated my technical capabilities my confidence grew. Engineering is primarily based on technical achievement and ability, so there's very little subjectivity.
"At Northrop Grumman I've been proud to lead outstanding teams, solving some of our customers' toughest problems. Working with some of the best and brightest in the aerospace industry is a great motivator for me," Flores concludes.
Ernie Flores directs tactical systems for Northrop Grumman ISW
Ernie Flores (no relation to Frank Flores) is director of tactical systems product support for Northrop Grumman ISW. He's been with the company more than twenty-one years.
Today he's the primary interface between the business area and program customer reps for all F/A-18 programs. That includes directing and managing all aspects of the U.S. Navy F/A-18 fighter product support program, from logistics support and engineering through forecasting customer requirements and developing new business capture strategies. A truly multi-disciplinary job, he reflects with pleasure.
Flores notes that many of his relatives in Mexico were engineers and architects. "I spent eight of my formative years in Mexico, influenced by a family that leaped from poverty to professionalism through hard work and determination," he says.
Flores has a 1982 BSEE from California State University-Long Beach. He also attended the Defense Systems Management College at Defense Acquisition University (Ft Belvoir, VA). His first job was in reliability engineering at Rockwell International.
"Because the reliability of hardware and systems is so important, my reliability engineering experience led to positions of increasing responsibility in aircraft product support," he says.
Like many senior-level engineers, Flores has several security clearances. "Once you obtain the first clearance, the ones that follow will be easier," he notes.
"Hispanic engineers add to the melting pot of ideas. We are one cog in the wheel of diversity, and in the aerospace business we need the whole wheel," Flores reflects.
"I remember the first men in space and on the moon, and I've seen aviation technology reach higher and higher with jumbo jets and faster and faster military aircraft," Flores says. "I dreamed of being involved in such pioneering adventures.
"Now I'm living my dream, and it's never without a new challenge or new frontier to explore."
George Guerra is a deputy team leader with Northrop Grumman
George Guerra, deputy integrated product team leader for the unmanned systems (UMS) market segment of Northrop Grumman's ISW, has been with the company more than thirteen years.
His work focuses on advancing UMS technology. "I help manage day-to-day activities for the UMS market segment," he says. "That includes major programs for the Navy and the Army, a targets program and a number of smaller program efforts."
He also works with the VP/general manager of financial management and long-range strategic planning and supports briefings with key visitors and meetings with key suppliers, as well as with customers. "The opportunity to support our nation's armed forces is immensely gratifying," he declares.
Guerra earned his 1982 BS in engineering at Yale University (New Haven, CT) and went on to Boston University (Boston, MA) for MS degrees in manufacturing engineering and business admin. All the kids in his family, he notes, wound up at grad or med school.
Guerra grew up in southern Texas. "My hometown celebrated both American and Mexican holidays and often blended the two cultures," he says.
Guerra is sure that diversity is a key to his company's success. "The opportunity to work with people of different ethnic, educational and social backgrounds has been helpful over the years as everyone brings a unique blend of skills to the job," he says.
Before Northrop Grumman, Guerra worked on Cruise missile systems for General Dynamics Convair (San Diego, CA) as a manufacturing engineer, and then as a materials and process engineer on airliner, space and missile programs. He later worked at Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical (San Diego, CA) on a proposal that became today's Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle program. "My preparation as a missile engineer helped as I was able to transition easily to unmanned systems," he says.
It's been an exciting and busy career. "If anyone had told me when I was in college that I would be able to do what I've done I would have said that was crazy," he notes with a laugh.
Patricia Sanchez: aircraft engineer for Bell Helicopter Textron
Patricia Sanchez has been a professional engineer for more than twenty-six years. As manager of air vehicle engineering for the 412, 212 and 214 aircraft programs at Bell Helicopter, a Textron company (Ft Worth, TX), she monitors the engineering part of aircraft design, delivery and certification for these medium-sized commercial helicopters. Bell has several hundred aircraft in the field and delivers about forty more each year.
Sanchez is a first-generation American. She was born in El Paso, TX. Her grandfather was an agricultural engineer, her father is a CE and two of her sisters are MEs. Sanchez got her BSME from the University of Texas-El Paso in 1981.
Although she's currently working on commercial aircraft, she was formerly chief engineer on proposals for the Army 412 light utility helicopter. She's had a variety of work experiences at Bell, like principal engineer for mass properties engineering, creating fuel-burn and balance-related data for flight manuals, and working with marketing on customer configuration.
Sanchez was on the team that sold Bell aircraft to the Los Angeles, CA county fire department: the same helicopters seen on news programs during the fires in Southern California. "Seeing our aircraft on the news really made me proud. Bell's products are making a difference for rescue and other important operations," she says.
Away from work, Sanchez conducts social equality classes at the YWCA. She's served on the Fort Worth YWCA board of directors for six years now. It's all part of balancing work and life for her. "I have a core group of friends at work to go to lunch with, and I maintain friendships outside of work."
Joseph Anthony Gallegos is a senior lead designer at Boeing
Joseph Anthony Gallegos spent the last fifteen years as a senior lead hardware design engineer, helping create state-of-the-art technology at the Anaheim, CA site of Boeing (St. Louis, MO).
Boeing is one of the world's leading aerospace companies and one of the largest manufacturers of commercial jetliners and military aircraft. At Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems (IDS), Gallegos works with the fiber-optic data multiplex and gigabit ethernet data multiplex systems groups, overseeing all phases of engineering design.
These critical data network systems are used on the DDG-51 class destroyers, "considered the backbone of the U.S. Navy surface fleet," he notes with pride.
Day-to-day, Gallegos leads a team of engineers, orchestrates design disciplines and integrates new designs for defense contracts. In 2004 Boeing recognized him as an associate technical Fellow, based on his design expertise in digital module, FPGA and ASIC technologies. Last year he received HENAAC's IT award in hardware engineering.
Gallegos earned his 1982 BSCS at the University of California-Irvine, and another BS, this one in EE, from West Coast University (Los Angeles, CA) in 1989. "I became a hardware engineer for two reasons: Mom and Dad," he says. "My Mexican American parents wanted the best education for me."
His late father encouraged him to pursue math and science. "He taught me the principle of asking the right question to solve a problem," Gallegos says. His mother was a hybrid microcircuit assembler for Rockwell International, now a Boeing company, and worked on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs.
In 1975 Gallegos joined Rockwell International as a QA analyst. He monitored and reviewed procurement parts and module assembly in-process work to ensure compliance with military and commercial specs. Later he supervised test operators, inspectors and technicians responsible for module assembly QC, schedules and budgets.
In 1982 Rockwell became Boeing, and Gallegos became a lead engineer. He introduced information communications technology (ICT) to the company and developed the ICT design team into a center of excellence for Boeing in Anaheim, CA. ICT became a standard operating process for several Boeing divisions.
Gallegos enjoys working with the men and women in the armed forces. "Ten years ago I got to ride on the USS Cole destroyer to solve a technical problem. The time I spent with the warfighters on board the USS Cole was very meaningful to me," he says.
In his spare time, Gallegos enjoys spending time with his wife Erma and two daughters, Erica and Jennifer.
José A. Nuñez, software configuration manager for General Atomics AS
José A. Nuñez has been software configuration manager for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI, San Diego, CA) for four years. He manages a team that handles software release for several programs. "When the software is ready we put it through a series of tests to be sure it adheres to required policy and engineering practices," he explains.
Originally from Puerto Rico and New York, Nuñez joined the Air Force as a meteorologist in 1981 and served for eleven years of active duty. He attended the Community College of the U.S. Air Force (Maxwell AFB, AL) and graduated in 1992 with an associate degree in meteorology. Later he studied CS at San Jose State University (San Jose, CA).
Nuñez spent more than twenty years with the Air Force as a meteorologist, small computer admin, systems admin and special ops team leader. He has fifteen years of experience in areas like hardware and software configuration management, software QA and software development. And he's racked up twenty years as a systems admin in Unix and Windows environments. He has a track record managing software teams and facilitating groups.
"It's exciting to know that we're working on products that mean something to real people across the globe," Nuñez says. He considers the defense industry a "multi-discipline field," which calls on EEs, MEs and software managers to "figure out how to get the best solution for the customer in a timely fashion while still controlling the costs." GA-ASI works with the U.S. Air Force, Army, Department of Homeland Security and more.
"The greatest thing about this industry is the collaboration," Nuñez concludes. He lives in San Marcos, CA with his wife and three children.
Maria Stropky is a systems engineer for Harris
Maria Stropky builds architecture for software systems to support the defense customers of Harris Corp (Melbourne, FL) with modeling and simulation of their military systems and ops. She also supports the engineering and military utility analysis of space systems for the Los Angeles base of the U.S. Air Force, and interprets Air Force specs to build the needed software systems. She's worked in both software and systems engineering and modeling and simulation areas for more than twenty years.
Stropky moved to the U.S. from Chile with her parents in 1980. Her father, an ME, was in the Chilean Navy. "He encouraged me to work with numbers and strengthen my mathematical skills."
She studied industrial design at the University of Chile-Valparaiso, then transferred to the University of Maryland-College Park. She completed her BSCS in 1986, and her husband encouraged her to set her sights on an engineering career with government contractors.
Before joining Harris, Stropky supported several defense contractors and federal agencies. She did modeling and simulation for the Air Force research lab, system analysis and architecture for the Center for Army Analysis, mapping and geodesy software reuse for the Army Topographic Engineering Center, modeling and simulation of war systems for the Department of Defense and software development for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the U.S. Census Bureau. She's also led teams in the complex Joint Warfare System environment to develop a primary simulation tool for future military systems.
Stropky won the 2001 research leadership award of the Women of Color Government and Defense Technology organization and belongs to SWE.
"I love working with people who are willing to work hard for their country," Stropky says. "Harris management has been very supportive of my career and has allowed me to expand my skills as well as provide flexibility." Stropky is married with two children.
Charles Montoya manages legacy systems for Harris
Charles Montoya is senior engineering manager of broadcast software systems for Harris Corp. He oversees the management of five active products. The work includes development from inception through implementation, including hardware and software environments for developing and testing, and production support release coordination.
Montoya has been at Harris for two years. Before that he worked as a project manager for Cassatt Corp, as a product program manager at Sun Microsystems, and as an IT Manager for MCI Communications.
He retired from the Air Force in 1994 after serving for twenty years. He earned his degree while he was in the military, graduating from Regis University (Denver, CO) with a bachelors in business admin, the first of his family to graduate from college.
While in the military, "I worked with Air Force commanders and watched how they managed their people," he recalls. "The philosophy was that if you take care of the people, they will take care of the job."
Luis Cisneros is a principal engineer for EDO Corp
Luis Cisneros brings fifteen years of software engineering experience to EDO Corp (New York, NY, now part of ITT Corp). As a principal engineer, he works on a team that designs, develops and integrates multi-tier software/hardware apps for the defense industry.
"I enjoy using leading-edge technology to create systems for our customers," he says. "It also gives me a sense of satisfaction to know that my contributions help keep our country safe."
Before joining EDO Cisneros held many jobs in software engineering at Sandia National Laboratories, IBM, the former TRW, now part of Northrop Grumman, and others.
He was born in the U.S. His parents are from Mexico and his father worked in construction. Cisneros got his BSEE with a minor in economics from New Mexico State University. "I wanted a degree in engineering because it teaches you how to approach and solve technical problems," he says. "I believe that a diverse work environment generates a better pool of ideas and perspectives to solve problems."
Daniel Ortiz: space launch ops director for Aerospace Corp
Directly after college Daniel Ortiz went to work for the Aerospace Corp (El Segundo, CA), a not-for-profit company that provides independent technical analyses and assessments for national security space programs and some civil and commercial space programs. He's been at the federally funded organization for twenty-six years now, supporting government customers like the U.S. Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office, civil customers including NASA and NOAA, and commercial companies like United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Ortiz is systems director of propulsion and ordnance systems and space launch ops. He helps support Delta II, Delta IV and Atlas V systems, verifying that the engines, motors and explosive devices used are acceptable for flight.
"The most important skill in this industry is a willingness to learn and explore," he says. It's worked just fine for Ortiz. Today he's an expert on
liquid-fuel rocket engines like Titan and Centaur for space launch ops, and has made significant technical contributions to a long list of engine programs including solid rocket motors, upper stages and booster engines.
Ortiz was born in Los Angeles, CA to parents from Mexico City. "My parents stressed the importance of choosing a career to earn a good living," he says. So after getting his BSChE from UCLA in 1981, Ortiz went on to earn an MS in aerospace engineering from Northrop University (Inglewood, CA) in 1988.
"I love the work I do," he says. "We have many rockets being developed in parallel, and they all present challenging, complex problems to solve throughout the entire process. Every rocket is a new venture and a new vehicle."
José Segarra is a principal engineer for ARINC
At the Warner Robins, GA location of ARINC (formerly Aeronautical Radio Inc, Annapolis, MD), where he's worked for fifteen years, principal engineer José Segarra supports C-5 avionics systems engineering System Program Office functions. He conducts engineering analyses of aircraft problems that cannot be solved by regular troubleshooting procedures, analyzing data to develop real-time solutions.
Segarra also investigates and resolves reported problems with aircraft wiring, flight controls, landing gear and power generation systems. He examines parts obsolescence issues and presents viable solutions for long-term support of aircraft systems.
This, says Segarra, is a very dynamic environment. "I never know what I will face. Every day brings a different challenge in areas like wiring, landing gear, fuel tanks and flight controls. It's very demanding."
Segarra comes from Puerto Rico, where his CE father and RN mother still live. In 1986 Segarra graduated from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez with a BSEE. He's also a PE and holds a private pilot's license.
He served in the U.S. Air Force for six years, working as a weapons controller and electronics engineer. He was assigned to the F-15 systems program office at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, where he performed detailed analyses of aircraft mod designs.
He also investigated service-related aircraft malfunctions and provided repair instructions to the field techs. "I enjoyed every second of my years in the Air Force," says Segarra.
He attributes his success to working with talented people from a variety of backgrounds. "I really respect the folks I work with," he says. "We have a very diverse team, and everyone is respected for the points they bring to the table."
Into the future
"There's never a dull moment in my line of work. The defense industry is very exciting and gratifying," says Patricia Sanchez of Bell Helicopter Textron. "But there are still not enough women and minorities."
Nevertheless, the industry is clearly on its way. Defense companies and government agencies understand that the cultural backgrounds and unique experiences of diverse engineers help create a continuous flow of innovative ideas as well as a global perspective. "Diversity is the enabler that provides the foundation for rich solutions," says Northrop Grumman's Frank Flores.
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