African Americans find fulfilling careers in defense
“It’s truly exciting to see how diversity has expanded within the defense industry.”
– Shannon Booty, Rockwell Collins
“It’s important for everyone to participate in the advancement of science, because the end product will benefit all of us.”
– Paul Charles, Naval Research Laboratory
By Monique Rizer
Whether the job is with the government, a private for-profit corporation or a nonprofit, defense is a fine field to be in. Not only is it exciting, but it’s steady. “The industry has been thriving for the past ten years,” notes DeWayne Allen, a program manager at aerospace and defense supplier Raytheon (Waltham, MA) and former national alumni chair of NSBE.
This is also a profession that’s constantly in need of techies who can meet citizenship and security requirements, and it’s a field that considers diversity important.
“We always need new STEM-related people in this field,” says Allen. “We follow the model of diversity employed by our customers, the armed services.” A 2005 Department of Defense report showed that better than 17 percent of active-duty service members were African American.
Work in defense may take you to new parts of the country, Allen notes. “It can be difficult at first for a young African American from an HBCU or an urban area.”
As a new industrial engineer for Raytheon, Allen jumped from Alabama to Texas to Tucson, AZ. “You do have to learn some new ways of life,” he says with a laugh. “In Tucson, for example, you just have to learn to play golf!” But apart from locale, Allen advises, taking on personal and professional challenges and acing them is the road to success.
James Dalton, PE: engineering chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
James Dalton has worked in five different countries with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Today he’s headquartered in Washington, DC. As the Corps’ chief of engineering and construction, Dalton is the highest ranking African American engineer in the Corps.
“We still need to have more progress,” he says. “There are a number of people of color in places there weren’t before, but as you start going higher that representation begins thinning out.”
Dalton began his career with a 1978 BS in architectural engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
Following a short stint at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Washington, DC) he joined the Corps as an engineering trainee in Wilmington, NC.
In 1981 he went to Saudi Arabia to take part in the building of King Khalid Military City (KKMC), designed to help the Saudi government support weapons it purchased from the U.S.
“KKMC was a complete city, from infrastructure to water wells and electrical plants, housing, schools, hospital and mosques,” Dalton recalls. “That was probably one of my greatest experiences; it’s not something you normally get to do in a lifetime.”
Dalton progressed from office engineer supporting utilities projects, to project engineer responsible for constructing a crude-oil facility. Later he was promoted to resident engineer and oversaw completion of a Saudi naval facility in Jubail. Then he was stationed in Egypt for nine years, becoming the area engineer responsible for all Corps engineering work there. During that time he also worked on his 1992 MSCE from North Carolina State University.
In 2001 he flew to Korea as the Corps’ deputy for programs and project management (DPM), and two years later he returned to the U.S. as DPM in Alaska.
In 2005 he was offered a senior executive service position as regional business director for the Corps’ South Atlantic Division. His HQ would be in Atlanta, GA. But before he could start that assignment, he was asked to go to Iraq.
He spent seven months in Baghdad as the Corps’ regional business director. “Our immediate job was to rebuild what was destroyed by the war, but we were also there to help modernize the country’s infrastructure,” he says.
Dalton returned to spend two years in Atlanta and then moved to his current role as chief of engineering and construction based in Washington, DC. He provides technical support, policy and guidance for planning, design and construction projects for the Corps, the military, civil works and environmental programs worldwide.
He also works with deans at HBCUs to recruit engineers and regularly mentors some fifteen rising techies. “I share my story with students to attract them to the corps, and we have several that are now working for us,” he says with pride.
In 2007 Dalton received a Black Engineer of the Year award for his lifetime of achievement in government.
Major General Don Riley, deputy commanding general of the Corps of Engineers, declares that Dalton’s technical leadership has materially advanced the Corps’ technical competency and its ability to increase diversity.
“African Americans in the Corps of Engineers, like our many other diverse employees, offer us tremendous benefits that result from a wide variety of ideas and backgrounds,” Riley says.
“James Dalton’s reputation is superb. He is well respected in the Corps and throughout the national engineering community.
“High-placed black Americans like James help us attract diverse talent across all racial backgrounds. This has strengthened the Corps and set us up for successful national service in the future.”
Cristi Haygood: REA at Raytheon
Cristi Haygood is a responsible engineering authority (REA) at Raytheon in Tucson, AZ. She works with several teams on part of the MK-72 modified booster for the U.S. Navy. “I make sure we’re meeting the Navy’s needs by coordinating with our supplier and cross-functional teams like finance, supply chain, hardware, analysis and materials,” she explains.
All this is a long way from designing roller coasters, her dream as a kid. Haygood earned her BSME at Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL) in 2007 and is working on an MBA, specializing in technology management, from the University of Phoenix (Phoenix, AZ).
A Raytheon-sponsored freshman mentoring program at Tuskegee led her to defense work. The company paired college women studying business and engineering with its own female execs. “They showed us the different things we can do and create in this business that protect our country,” Haygood says. “I also saw and appreciated how Raytheon supports career growth.”
Haygood interned at Raytheon for the next two years, and joined the company as an ME when she graduated. She was a hardware designer for the same Navy booster program where she’s now an REA.
After eighteen months creating and running analyses on Pro/Engineer CAD drawings and models for the booster and separation assembly, she was ready to take on the new challenge of project management in propulsion. Her current job as REA is her first role in this section, and she hopes to stay in the area.
“I liked design work, but I always wanted to see how to turn the designs into products and sell them. And I wanted to understand how scheduling and budgets fit into the process,” she says.
“Because I worked on this project as a design engineer, it was a good fit for me.”
Haygood stays active outside her REA role. She’s been a member of Raytheon’s Black Employment Network since her days as an intern, and currently serves as its recording officer.
Navy Commander Paul Judice
is a branch chief at DTRA
Paul Judice has served in the U.S. Navy for nearly twenty-five years. Today he’s the branch chief of test and fielding support for the R&D enterprise at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA, Fort Belvoir, VA). He currently works at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM, but he’s scheduled to deploy to Kuwait in September.
DTRA’s mission is to safeguard America and its allies against weapons of mass destruction. The agency, founded in 1998, works to reduce, eliminate and counter the threat of WMDs and mitigate their effects.
Judice graduated fourth out of 405 students at Jack Yates Senior High School (Houston, TX). He earned his 1984 BS in psychology with minors in engineering and math at Prairie View A&M University (Prairie View, TX), where he was commissioned into the Navy.
His first assignment was as a communications officer on board the USS Hermitage in Little Creek, VA, but the Navy soon had other plans for him. “They said, ‘We’re going to make you an engineer,’” Judice recalls with a smile. He was sent to several different Navy schools, where he acquired the technical knowledge he needed to complete three engineering tours on three different vessels and contribute to the engineering tests conducted on board.
He also learned how to sail every surface ship in the Navy, earning a Surface Warfare Officer pin and the Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) designation in his first year and a half. That was a remarkable feat. “I can drive an aircraft carrier, an amphibious ship, anything above the water,” he explains. A qualified EOOW has a thorough knowledge of the entire engineering plant, including propulsion, electrical and auxiliary systems, can initiate all procedures to start up the engineering plant and get the ship under way, and ensure the ship’s safety if an engineering casualty occurs.
Judice has served as a main propulsions assistant and as an electrical officer on the USS Detroit. Following those assignments he spent several years as an instructor in naval operations at Texas A&M University (College Station, TX), and later served as chief engineer on the USS Mount Baker.
Judice spent half his Navy career sailing ships that carried everything from marines to munitions. His tour also included several years in mine warfare, as executive director onboard two mine sweepers and as an undersea experiment director assigned to the Navy warfare development command, using the latest technology to find and neutralize mines or submarines.
Recently Judice has been in charge of testing weapons and analyzing their effect on structures in the R&D enterprise at DTRA. He’s led teams of a dozen or more scientists and engineers, primarily civilians choosing sites and designing, building and testing structures. The idea is to evaluate not only each weapon’s efficiency, but also how the structure is affected by the weapon.
Judice is a lifetime member of the National Naval Officers Association, which was created to mentor African American Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard officers. He’s also involved in the Navy’s minority officer and enlisted recruitment program.
Sherise Wood is deputy
program manager at Sikorsky
Sherise Wood is always ready for a challenge. “Every couple of years I’m thinking, ‘What’s next?,’” she says with a laugh. She’s had that eagerness to develop her skills throughout her career in defense, supporting projects for the U.S. Army and Navy and for other countries around the world.
Wood completed her BSME at the University of Delaware in 1994. Then she joined Boeing (Chicago, IL), taking a job in the company’s helicopter division in Philadelphia, PA. As a structural engineer she performed stress analyses for the V-22; she spent five years doing stress work, including a year in Seattle, WA, at Boeing’s commercial business, to support the company’s growing workload developing the 757-300 and 767-400 aircraft.
Next she spent a year as a management systems control auditor, doing operations and financial auditing. Then she moved to systems engineering.
“That was an excellent platform for me because I could combine my technical and management skill sets,” she says. She spent six years in the area, eventually becoming the transportability requirements lead system engineer for the future combat systems program.
Wood joined Sikorsky Aircraft (Stratford, CT) in 2005 as a chief systems engineer working on the Romeo program, the Navy’s next generation of maritime, multi-mission helicopters. Last year the deputy program manager position opened up and she applied for and got the job.
Supporting the program manager, Wood has responsibilities like running program management team meetings, reporting on the progress of the program, supervising delivery of the aircraft to the customer and lots more.
“Moving from engineering to program management has been a challenge,” she admits. “Before this, I dealt mostly with engineering-related issues. Now I touch every aspect of the program, from test schedules to finance.”
Wood also supports Sikorsky’s recruiting efforts at the NSBE conference. “I’m glad each year when we see our NSBE recruits working in-house,” she says proudly. “I believe that everything I do to excel and move forward in this company makes more opportunity for other young African American women to do the same!”
Brandon Donnell builds engines
at Pratt & Whitney
Brandon Donnell always knew he wanted to work in aerospace. As a Junior Air Force ROTC student in high school he would go to air shows and dream about designing the engines that powered the planes in the sky. Today he’s a turbine airfoil design engineer at Pratt & Whitney (P&W, East Hartford, CT).
At North Carolina A&T State University, Donnell had two summer internships with Pratt & Whitney. During the first internship he worked with grad students on composite materials for parts of the GP7000 and PW-4000 commercial engines. For his second internship he switched to military engines, supporting the F135 engine program office. That, he says, gave him worthwhile exposure to executives working beyond technical matters.
In 2005 Donnell completed his BSME and applied to P&W. He spent the next three years doing design support on low-pressure turbine vanes for the F135 engine, which powers the F-35 Lightning II aircraft. By the third year he was working on parts for a low-pressure turbine blade configuration. Now he’s designing a low-pressure turbine blade on his own.
He makes trips to P&W’s engine center to see the engine come together. “When I first started I just thought, ‘Oh, engines,’” he says. “Now I really see the complexity that goes into making these products.”
Donnell also stays active in the community. For the past two years he’s tutored students in reading and comprehension through P&W’s “Power to Read” program. This year he coordinated the Black History Month program as part of the company’s African American Forum, bringing in diverse company execs to talk about career progression.
John Harper is a lead
packaging engineer for GA-ASI
After thirty years, John Harper still enjoys working in the defense industry. “It’s patriotic!” he says happily.
Harper holds a 1976 BSME from Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL); he was the first in his family to graduate from college. He began studying architecture, but switched to ME after he received a scholarship from Hughes Aircraft, a very important aviation entity at that time. Hughes also brought Harper in for summer internships, and they cemented his decision to be an engineer.
After graduation Harper spent sixteen years as a mechanical design engineer. He started with Hughes, moving to Lockheed Aircraft Services in Ontario, CA and General Dynamics in Pomona, CA. In 1988, following a layoff, he started his own company, Harper Electronics.
In 1994 he joined a company that modified vehicles to accommodate people with mobility challenges. He redesigned the company’s power ramp and sliding door assemblies.
He went back to the defense industry in 1996. He joined Raytheon as a senior ME and systems engineer, designing components of the MK-82 guided bomb. He went on to senior design engineering jobs at other defense companies, and in 2004 he joined General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI, San Diego, CA), a leading manufacturer of unmanned aircraft systems.
Today Harper heads up three teams at GA-ASI. He oversees avionic and payload packaging designs: systems that control flight altitude, direction, weapons and communication with the pilot on the ground. He’s also responsible for environmental test support and cable design documentation. His teams include seven designers and two engineers, working on the entire aircraft platform of programs at GA-ASI.
Harper also supports the company’s recruiting efforts. The industry, he reflects, “is not as diverse as I would like to see, but things are changing and I look forward to doing what I can to help.”
Cornell Penn works with a satellite program at Booz Allen Hamilton
Cornell Penn spent thirteen years as an officer in the U.S. Air Force before joining Booz Allen Hamilton (McLean, VA). Today he’s an associate on the test and evaluation team for the advanced extremely high frequency (AEHF) satellite communications system. AEHF is the successor to Milstar, a satellite that Penn flew in the Air Force.
Penn started at the University of Oklahoma in engineering but changed to psychology. He got his bachelors in 1994. His 1998 MS in space studies is from the University of North Dakota.
When he completed the BA he was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force, where he spent three years as a missile launch officer. The job involved standing ready for twenty-four-hour watch periods, in case the president’s command to launch a missile came through.
“You would guard the missiles and pray and hope against getting launch orders, but you were ready to act on them if they came,” he says.
Next, the Air Force sent Penn to fly the Milstar satellite at Schriever AFB (Colorado Springs, CO). Then he was stationed at Clear Air Force Base, AK as a missile warning officer, watching for enemy ICBMs and conducting space surveillance for Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and NASA. He returned to Schriever as an operational tester, checking out space systems before and after deployment to the war fighters.
Most recently he was chief of transformational military satellite communications (MILSATCOM), where he saw the successful launch of the wideband global SATCOM system. “That is a coveted job in Air Force space command, and a nice way to cap off my Air Force career,” he says. He separated from the military as a major in 2008.
With the engineering knowledge of missiles and satellites acquired through assignments and courses in the Air Force, Penn knew he had a skill set sought by many companies. He went with Booz Allen Hamilton.
Now based in Colorado Springs, CO, he advises a Booz Allen client on testing and preparing warfighters for the transition to the Transformation Communications Satellite System (TSAT). This is a major military initiative that will provide on-the-go bandwidth to fighters on the ground. “It will offer Internet-like capability in the field,” Penn explains.
Adding to the everyday excitement of Penn’s job, his office brought in three Tuskegee airmen as well as the CEO of the Urban League and the first black commander of the Colorado Springs police department in observance of Black History Month 2009. A memorable brush with history and history-in-the-making!
Mark McLane, director of diversity and inclusion at Booz Allen, notes that “We strive to bring the full range of diverse perspectives to our clients. Certainly our African American staff contributes to the unique points of view that provide for the richness of client solutions.”
Raynard Woods: EE at Moog
Raynard Woods is an electrical product engineer at Moog (East Aurora, NY). He supports the company’s aircraft program, developing electronic product boards and boxes that control the craft.
Security is a big part of the operation, so he can’t share a lot about his current work. But echoing Iron Man, a favorite comic book character when he was a kid, “I like seeing how electronics controls mechanics,” he says with a smile.
In the fifteen years Woods spent working at Delphi (Troy, MI) and GM (Detroit, MI) he was doing just that, designing and building electrical panels for manufacturing equipment. “We programmed the machines to do high-speed cuts, coordinated motions and things of that sort,” he says. At Delphi, he was a project engineer on the liquid cooling system for the Dell H20, a high-performance gaming PC.
Woods has a 1994 BSEE and 1996 MSEE from the State University of New York-Buffalo. He is the youngest of fourteen children; education was important to his father, a steel mill worker, and his mother, a nurse. “They always told me, ‘No one can take away your education,’” he recalls.
As a middle school student he took part in the Buffalo Engineering Awareness for Minorities program; he recently served as chapter VP for NSBE. He credits groups like these for passing the message on to rising engineers.
Don Davis, U.S. recruiting manager for Moog, notes that “Being a global company we have a very diverse population of employees and cultures. Our diversity helps drive innovation to develop creative solutions.”
Dr Darron Robbins: scientist
and research analyst at CNA
As an analyst at CNA (Alexandria, VA), Darron Robbins, PhD applies principles of science and math to help the military evaluate its operational capabilities. “We’re scientists,” Robbins says. “If we’re working with NAVAIR engineers, for example, we can work together to see how technology can be integrated to solve challenges in military operations.”
Robbins has a 1997 BS in physics from the University of West Georgia and a 2002 PhD in physics from Texas Christian University. After completing his doctorate he spent two years at Lawrence Livermore National Labs (Livermore, CA) researching plasma polarization spectroscopy. He describes that work as primarily measuring X-rays from a highly ionized gas.
In 2005 he joined CNA’s expeditionary systems and support team in the advance technology and systems analysis division. A recent project involved researching the U.S. Marines’ ability to perform long-term, large-scale operations from the sea, rather than a foreign land base. “We were particularly looking at very intense flight-deck operations involving the Osprey MV-22 and CH-53 aircraft. Those operations play a significant role in amphibious assault,” he explains.
Robbins used mathematical modeling to see if the sea-base approach was workable, how much strain it would put on aircraft and ships, and the logistics of restocking food, ammunition and people without an onshore base.
Robbins served four years in the Army Reserve while earning his BS. But his academic training offered the most insight into this job, and he enjoys the work. “Every project is unique,” he says.
CNA diversity program coordinator Alice Brown notes that “When we talk about diversity we’re talking about maintaining an environment that is inclusive, respectful and ethical. Our diversity of opinions, ideas, experiences and backgrounds makes our research and analysis much more effective.”
Dr Reggie Brothers directs
and technology at BAE Systems
Reggie Brothers, PhD is an expert in connections. Not only is he an EE, but his personal networks have rerouted his career a great many times over the past twenty-five years.
Brothers holds a 1984 BSEE from Tufts University (Medford, MA), a 1986 MSEE from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX), and a 1997 PhD in optical communications from MIT (Cambridge, MA).
He joined Texas Instruments (Dallas, TX) when he completed his BS. He considered reliability engineering, but a company-assigned mentor steered him toward design. “That changed everything!” he says.
While studying at MIT he worked for the school’s Lincoln Laboratory (Lexington, MA), designing advanced radar systems. He spent fourteen years at the lab, working on optical and RF communication systems and moving up to assistant group leader.
In 1998 he joined a startup company to work on wireless communications. The company developed the first 3G base station and was later purchased by Texas Instruments.
By 2000 Brothers was ready to return to defense. A friend from Lincoln Lab had moved to Draper Lab (Cambridge, MA), and brought in Brothers to work on wireless communications.
A colleague at Draper left for the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA, Arlington, VA) and encouraged Brothers to join him. In 2003 he joined DARPA as a project manager. Sandblaster, a program he developed there, uses sensors and other technologies to help pilots landing in environments where visibility is limited by sandy conditions.
In 2007 Brothers moved to BAE Systems (Rockville, MD). He’s now director of advanced programs and technology there.
“Real innovation comes when you can draw from different fields and bring them together,” Brothers says. “BAE allows me to do that. I look across the organization and small outside companies and pull together solutions for our customers.”
Brothers’ team works on programs like sensor payloads and sense-and-avoid technologies for unmanned aerial vehicles for the Air Force, and on navigation systems for environments without GPS for the Army and special forces.
After hours Brothers has studied many forms of martial arts. He holds a black belt in Uechi-ryu karate. Through most of his career he’s mentored at-risk youth.
Clearly, he has the kind of diversity BAE Systems looks for. Director of diversity and EEO Cynthia Collver notes that “BAE Systems strives for an inclusive workplace culture that values diversity. “Embracing diversity unleashes our company’s potential to connect with our customers, foster innovation and productivity and capitalize on our global footprint. It’s smart business.”
Shannon Booty: senior software
engineer at Rockwell Collins
Shannon Booty works at the Richardson, TX government systems business unit of Rockwell Collins (Cedar Rapids, IA). She works on a range instrumentation waveform program for a joint tactical radio system.
Booty is designing and implementing networking/IP software for the radios’ red-side general-purpose processors. The red side of the waveform, she explains, is used to accept application and command data from the radio user over a secure network.
Booty has a 1995 BS in math and CS from Prairie View A&M University. She originally wanted to be a college math professor like her mother, but once in college she loved the problem-solving abilities of computers and added the CS degree.
After graduating she joined Texas Instruments as a software engineer, developing software for an infrared radar.
In 1997 she moved to Nortel Networks in Richardson, TX. She was there for ten years, designing test tools to support the CDMA system and integration test teams. She also designed software to simulate CDMA-based mobile phones and call-processing scenarios, and simulation software for cell-site equipment like base-station transceivers.
Booty moved to Rockwell Collins in 2007 as a senior software engineer. She’s also involved in the Richardson, TX branch of the African Americans at Rockwell Collins employee network group.
“It’s truly exciting to see how diversity has expanded within the defense industry,” she says. “I think today there are more opportunities within the industry for African Americans, and that more African Americans are being recognized as top contributors within their various engineering fields.”
Rich Eisenhart, Rockwell Collins VP of government systems engineering, declares that “I see the direct benefits of our diverse workforce each day at Rockwell Collins. We have amazingly talented and motivated employees working on innovative solutions that help keep the men and women serving in our military safe, and military operations running efficiently around the globe.”
Researcher Paul Charles directs
NRL’s minority internship program
Paul Charles is passionate about both science and students. As a research chemist at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL, Washington, DC) he uses science to improve the sensing abilities of technologies that detect contaminants in soil and water.
Charles has a 1985 BA in biological sciences from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a 1990 masters in administration of healthcare from the University of Maryland-University College.
After completing his BA he joined Bionetics Research (Rockville, MD) as a research technician. He conducted cell cloning and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays to develop antibodies that would target and identify cancer cells.
Later he joined the biochemistry department of Georgetown University (Washington, DC) as a research scientist, working on carrier proteins containing fluorescent probes for sensor applications and isotope radio-labeling of biomolecules for NRL. “The materials assisted in the initial development phases of many NRL sensors,” Charles explains.
That research led to contract work at NRL’s center for bio/molecular science and engineering. In 1991 he was brought in as an NRL employee. He’s working on immunosensors to help the Navy detect explosives, toxins and environmental pollutants. “I’ve been blessed to work with a fabulous group of scientists here at NRL,” Charles says.
Lori Hill, NRL’s deputy EEO officer, explains that “NRL is essentially the Navy’s corporate research laboratory. It continually performs dynamic and complex research, producing a myriad of end products which benefit not only the fleet but all our armed services.”
Charles holds five patents and has forty-five publications and more than 800 citations. He works equally hard as director of NRL’s NSF-supported Research Experiences for Undergraduates program for historically black colleges and universities, minority institutions and tribal colleges and universities. It’s a ten-week summer internship opportunity that brings in promising minority students for hands-on research and mentoring. “The goal is to encourage them to pursue graduate degrees in science and technology, and careers in research or teaching,” he explains.
Charles has mentored students in the program for ten years and directed the program for five. He tries to provide an example for minority students, and encourages them to work hard and give back as their careers blossom.
“Many of the students have never been away from their homes and I see their excitement when they get this opportunity. It’s important for everyone to participate in the advancement of science, because the end product will benefit all of us.”
Deputy EEO officer Hill agrees. “NRL is always seeking talent at the graduate level in the science and technology fields,” she says. “The diverse nature of the work is complemented by our diverse workforce, which provides not only technical talent but varied life experiences which enhance the overall research products.”
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