Hispanic engineers do good work
on rigorous technical assignments
“Having technical skills and being bilingual or multilingual is a tremendous advantage.” – Ray Mellado, Great Minds in STEM (HENAAC).
“The number of minority tech pros at APL has increased more than 200 percent in the last ten years, and Hispanics make critical contributions to our organization.” – James Parker, diversity officer, Johns Hopkins APL
By Laurel A. McKee Ranger
'What does America need to remain competitive in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and where are we going to get the talent?” asks Ray Mellado, president and CEO of Great Minds in STEM, formerly the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference (HENAAC). He knows the answer, too: “We have to look to our own population. We have to ensure that diverse children get the rigorous educational background they need!”
Mellado feels that the education process is failing to establish clear pathways to STEM careers. He thinks in many cases neither parents nor teachers fully realize the importance of STEM subjects and their value in career development, and so are failing to show the kids why it’s important for them to do well in these areas.
“We have to increase the enrollment of underrepresented populations,” continues Mellado.
“As parents and teachers, we have to talk about careers and expose children to role models in STEM.” He sees this issue, not as a problem for minorities, but as a national crisis.
Mellado notes that despite the economy, jobs in technology are increasing in areas like defense, security, energy and space. He sees good opportunities for engineers who are fluent in both Spanish and English. “The more someone is marketable to the global community, the better it is,” he declares. “There are many countries where Spanish is spoken. Having technical skills and being bilingual or multilingual is
a tremendous advantage,” Mellado concludes.
Although more are needed, there are already many highly successful Hispanic techies at many important companies. Read on to learn about ten of them.
Carlos E. Alfonso: senior staff member at Johns Hopkins APL
Carlos E. Alfonso is a software engineer and member of the senior staff at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL, Laurel, MD), a not-for-profit government research center for engineering and development. Alfonso was born in San Juan, PR, and his father came from Cuba.
At APL, Alfonso is currently working on Aegis combat system analysis for the Navy. “My part is to help in the modeling and analysis of future combat system concepts and to support government reviews of current combat system development efforts,” he explains. “My group integrates new sensors into the systems. We run through potential threats to the system to evaluate whether the defenses are adequate.”
Alfonso has a 2000 BSEE from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez and a 2006 MSCS from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT, Rochester, NY). In 2000 he was hired for corporate strategic services in the Rochester, NY facility of Xerox Corp (Webster, NY); he worked on test fixtures that supported photoreceptors for a digital printing press. In 2006 he joined the air and missile defense department at APL.
Growing up in a suburb of San Juan, Alfonso was always interested in engineering. His father, who had been a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, was a civil engineer, but Alfonso went for EE, and when he entered the workforce he found himself managing projects that involved programming.
“Xerox nominated me for its graduate studies program and gave me a scholarship to RIT, then another Mayagüez alum put me onto the job at APL.” His wife also works in Maryland; she’s in bio-defense.
Today Alfonso is enjoying the complexity of his work. Just providing innovations is not enough, he notes; “They have to be tied into legacy systems.
“This is how I give back to this great country,” he adds proudly.
Alfonso received the SHPE member of the year award in 2001, the Xerox recognition award for merit in 2005 and 2006, and an APL air and missile defense department special achievement award in 2008. He’s currently VP of the Hispanic Awareness Club at APL, and has worked on health fairs in the community, serving as a translator for doctors.
Diversity at APL
“The number of minority technical pros at APL has consistently and substantially increased over the last ten years, by about 200 percent, and Hispanics make critical contributions to our organization,” says James Parker, EEO and diversity officer at APL. He notes that a number of Hispanic engineers have been recognized for their achievement at APL in the last few years.
The Hispanic Awareness Club, an employee affinity group, supports efforts to increase minority participation through cultural awareness, professional development and recruitment. Members often accompany recruiters, and the club co-sponsors the summer mentorship program for college students.
Parker notes that “APL is constantly looking for the best and brightest and is actively hiring engineers. Because people often have very long careers here, inclusiveness is especially important to us as well as mutually beneficial.”
Carla Preston: global product development at Ford Motor Co
As manager of global product development at Ford, Carla Preston is involved in key factory processes and the global product development business plan for the short-, mid- and long term. She also supports the group VP of product development, managing and facilitating senior- level meetings and developing internal and external presentations for him.
“Working on the presentations is very challenging and rewarding. We have to communicate the Ford product development story,” says Preston.
She has five direct reports and leverages resources from other groups as well. She also works on operations, getting metrics ready for the business plan review. That’s a 200-page report that’s assessed every other week, she explains.
Preston has a 1990 BS in engineering science and a 1991 MS in urban planning from the University of Michigan, and a 1995 MBA from the University of Phoenix (www.phoenix.edu). Before she joined Ford as a quality manager on the Explorer platform in 2000, she worked in various engineering roles at several automotive parts companies and a defense contractor.
In her spare time Preston enjoys volunteering as an after-school teacher for second graders, and in the summer she conducts a math class for girls.
Preston grew up in Michigan and California, but her mother’s parents were born in Puerto Rico. Her father has Latino and Cherokee roots. Preston understands Spanish although she’s not a fluent speaker, and her Hispanic heritage means a lot to her.
She joined SHPE as a freshman in college and remains committed to the organization. In 2008 she was SHPE industrial partner council chair; she chaired the Ford Hispanic Network last year. “We have about 130 active members in Dearborn, and branches in other states and around the world,” she notes.
Ford is an essential part of Preston’s background: her grandfather worked at Ford to earn the money to bring his brothers and sisters to the States. Preston appreciates the company products and her role in their creation. “I love my 2009 MKS, and our hybrids are exciting,”
she says. “But I’m already working on our 2012 offerings.”
Diversity at Ford
Allison Trawick, global manager for the office of diversity and inclusion at Ford Motor Co, notes that Hispanic employees are a large and integral part of the workforce at the automotive giant. “Hispanic employees have contributed at every level and in every function at the company,” she says. Hispanics are presidents of major organizations within the company, chief engineers, executives, and involved as professionals in Ford’s major functions.
Ford works with the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, the Ford Society of Hispanic Professionals and other groups to recruit and retain highly qualified people. The company has been recognized by SHPE and other organizations for its commitment to diversity.
Ford’s Hispanic networking group puts on educational and cultural programs and helps support college recruiting, consumer needs and marketing. “They’re a terrific resource and have been very supportive in marketing efforts to the Hispanic community,” Trawick says.
“Ford is a global business,” says Alan Mulally, the company’s president and CEO. “We have a lot of talented people working together. The more we embrace our differences within Ford, the better we can deliver what the customers want and the more successful Ford will be.”
Elsi Flores Walkabout: project engineer at Linde Process Plants
Linde Process Plants, Inc (Tulsa, OK) designs and constructs facilities for natural gas processing, oil refining, industrial gases and petrochemicals. The company, part of the German company Linde Group, has a large engineering office and fabrication shop in Tulsa.
As a project engineer at Linde Process Plants, Elsi Flores Walkabout coordinates civil, electrical, structural, mechanical and instrumentation engineering work, often following a project from proposal to completion. “I make sure we meet deadlines and stay within budget,” she says. “We use a three-dimensional software program that models the entire plant. We review progress at 30, 60 and 90 percent completion of the model to make sure the design is right.”
Her current project is in Mexico, where her fluent Spanish is essential. She grew up in Ciudad Juarez, and her family is from the state of Chihuahua. She acquired her non-Hispanic name when she married a Cherokee coworker from Oklahoma.
Walkabout was recently accepted into the Juarez College of Civil Engineers. She earned her 1980 BSCE at the Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez, and went on to work on construction projects in government hospitals for several years before taking time off to raise her children.
In 1993 she moved to Tulsa to work for Wallace Engineering (Tulsa, OK). At the time neither she nor her children could speak English, but they all learned quickly. “Both boys are engineers now, and my daughter is in the Teach for America program, working in schools in St. Louis, MO,” she reveals proudly.
In 1996 Walkabout moved into the petrochemical engineering and construction industry, working at Fluor Daniel Williams Brothers and Willbros Engineering, designing pipeline transportation of gasoline and gas. In 2003 she got into civil and structural engineering, designing steel structures and foundations for Linde Process Plants.
Early in her career Walkabout worried about working in a predominately male area. Now she’s glad she took the opportunity. “I like the people here. Linde Process Plants has well-defined work procedures and offers good opportunities to its employees,” she says.
On her current project in Mexico, she serves as a mediator. “It’s a lot more than just translation, it’s convincing the client and working within the cultural context of the client and
“We want everything to be very clear. Even when you’re using the same language it can be difficult to make sure everyone is on the same page!” she notes.
Joel A. Rivera: network asset planning at National Grid
National Grid is an international energy delivery company with corporate offices in Waltham, MA and Brooklyn, NY, and main HQ in the U.K. It supplies electricity to 3.3 million customers in New England and New York and is the largest distributor of natural gas in the northeastern U.S.
Joel A. Rivera is a network asset-planning engineer at National Grid. He does electric distribution planning studies, resolves customer voltage complaints, analyzes distribution system capacity for operability and flexibility, and supports transmission planning studies.
He also works with customers, internal as well as external. “I’m developing a five-year work plan in which each project that comes out of our office is aligned with an approved strategy,” he explains with pride. “I design projects to improve reliability and customer relations.” He’s also part of a team working on a new cost-estimating tool.
Rivera was born in Barranquitas in the mountains of Puerto Rico. He has a 2003 BSEE from the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico and is working toward a 2010 MSEE with a concentration in power systems from the University of Buffalo (Buffalo, NY). After he got his BS he worked at several large electrical contractors in Puerto Rico, including the post of field team supervisor at 3R Electrical Contractors (Bayamon, PR). In 2005 he joined Jones Engineering (Buffalo, NY) as a design engineer, working with electrical master plans for industrial, commercial and residential use.
In 2006 he moved to National Grid as a customer operations analyst. “I always wanted to get into the utility industry,” he says. “I worked in residential and industrial power and now I’m on the other side of the meter.” He’s also a member of the company’s Hispanic leadership group.
Vivian Martinez-Rivera manages logistics programs at P&W
Pratt & Whitney (P&W, East Hartford, CT) designs, manufactures and services gas turbines, space propulsion systems and jet engines for commercial and military aircraft. Both the Ares rocket and the Centaur rocket used in the October 2009 “moon bombing” employ P&W propulsion systems.
Vivian Martinez-Rivera is a logistics program manager at P&W. “I support international customers with F-16s powered by P&W engines,” she explains. “I’m responsible for the lifecycle of the engine. I make sure data, tooling and spare parts are available for engine maintenance, and I support direct commercial and foreign military sales contracts.”
Travel is part of the job, especially to Chile and Indonesia. She goes to each country once or twice a year.
Providing support for engines can be a challenge, especially since some customers have secondhand planes. “There are many different engine configurations, and you have to know the history of the individual engine. They work in different environments and have different maintenance schedules,” she says.
Martinez-Rivera has a 2001 BSME from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, an MS in management from Albertus Magnus College (East Hartford, CT) and a 2009 master of public policy and administration degree with a concentration in international economic policy from Columbia University (New York, NY). She’s a member of the Connecticut professional chapter of SHPE; at school she was president of the student chapter of ASME and a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers of Puerto Rico.
She began as a mechanical design engineer at Pratt & Whitney in 2001, became a test and validation engineer in 2003, and took on her program manager job in 2006.
Her job involves supporting military clients in various countries. “It’s a challenge to be an Hispanic woman working in a military, male-dominated environment,” she says. “But I’ve earned my customers’ respect by proving that I’m a competent individual, willing and able to support them.”
She must also be aware of local traditions, culture and religion. “Indonesia, for example, is
90 percent Muslim. It is very important for me to ensure that my customer’s traditions are respected at all times, whether it is in a business meeting or a social setting.”
Martinez-Rivera’s mother’s family is from Puerto Rico and her father’s is from Ecuador. Martinez-Rivera is the current head of P&W’s Hispanic leadership forum. “We provide career development opportunities for Hispanic professionals in the company, and we also focus on science, math and technology programs for middle and high school students in East Hartford and Hartford,” she says. “This year we sponsored a dozen high school students to go to the SHPE conference in Washington, DC.”
Martinez-Rivera has received various awards from Pratt & Whitney, including several Eagle awards for heading up the Hispanic leadership forum in its work in diversity and inclusion.
Marian Rivera is a business improvement analyst at BP
Marian Rivera was recently promoted to business improvement analyst at BP (Houston, TX). She gathers key data and provides analysis in mapping work processes, developing business improvements and measuring execution and performance. “I also work with key stakeholders in various departments to ensure alignment of action with the company’s strategic plan,” she says.
She’s currently working at BP’s Texas City, TX refinery. “It’s one of the largest refineries in the U.S.,” Rivera explains. “We can refine enough crude oil to satisfy 3 percent of the country’s gasoline demand, and we also make other products like jet fuel and diesel.”
Rivera has a 2003 BSME from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. She interned in BP’s Texas City facility in 2002, and moved into a full-time job as an asset reliability engineer, providing tech support to process units. She joined the site’s capital group in 2005.
She started in project engineering, managing a small portfolio of capital projects. Then she went on to project control engineer, working on turnaround assurance during shutdowns.
“I made sure the capital projects were integrated with the shutdowns. It was a new position so I got to create procedures and processes for managing schedules and the cost of projects.” Managing project execution during shutdowns is an industry-wide challenge, she explains.
“I was happy to work on this and proud of our accomplishments, but now I’m very excited about my new position. It impacts the business in such a positive way.”
Rivera started and still heads up the BP Texas City Latino network and is a member of SWE and SHPE. She was born and raised in Guayama, near Ponce, PR. “One summer in junior high school I was chosen for a pre-engineering summer camp at the university in Mayagüez. That was my ‘aha!’ moment; I knew what I wanted to do in my career.
“Out of the six kids in my family, four of us are engineers,” she adds.
She admits that making her way in the industry can be difficult at times. “The language is a challenge, but I’m a perfectionist and I work hard to communicate well. Besides that, as a Hispanic woman I was raised to be humble, but you can’t let that happen in business because it’s important to be assertive,” Rivera says.
So she started the Latino network at Texas City with the aims of educating people, promoting Hispanic culture and being a business partner with the company. “BP has been working hard on diversity. I love it here and now Texas is my home.”
Alexander Martinez is a systems engineer at Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD) is a global security company; for the past fifteen years it has been the largest supplier of IT to the U.S. government.
Systems engineer Alexander Martinez graduated from Duke University (Durham, NC) in 2002 with a BS in engineering and a triple concentration in EE, computer engineering and computer science. In 2009 he completed an MS in systems engineering from Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD).
He’s currently in Lockheed Martin’s EDGE (executive development and growth enhancement),
a two-year corporate rotation program. “I’m spending six months with the Washington operations of our direct combat division,” he says. “We support a wide range of programs, including missile defense systems like THAAD and Hellfire.” He tracks legislation coming out of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and evaluates its impact on the company.
As an undergrad, Martinez received a National Science Foundation research fellowship to work on robotics. After graduating he was hired by Lockheed Martin as a software engineer, eventually becoming team lead for a group of a dozen engineers. He has worked directly on customer sites and in business development, in IT as well as R&D, and is a member of various industry-related groups including the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.
Martinez grew up in Maryland. His grandfather, who had been a surgeon in Cuba, brought the family to the States when Martinez’ father was a teenager. “They came over with nothing, but through perseverance and their work ethic they built themselves back up,” Martinez says with pride. “My grandfather went back to school for three years and requalified as a GP. For my grandparents it was worth it to have the freedom of speech.”
For Martinez himself, “The events of 9/11 gave me a laser focus. I wanted to be involved in defense and global security. I was passionate about that. It’s been very fulfilling to be able to support that mission.”
Lockheed Martin encourages community service. Martinez works with the Hispanic College Fund and also helps prepare high school students for college. “We hold summer workshops at a local university and I walk the students through a workshop on engineering.” Among other activities, “We build planes with Legos,” he says.
Daniel Torres manages track maintenance on the Union Pacific
Daniel Torres is manager of track maintenance for Union Pacific Railroad (UP, Omaha, NE). He works out of Del Rio, TX, managing 230 miles of high-speed track that carries both freight and passengers, including Amtrak trains. The most rewarding part of his job is seeing that the employees are happy and satisfied with the work they’ve done and the trains are running safely and efficiently.
“Overall, everything beneath the train is my responsibility,” he notes. That includes rails, ties, ballast, sub-grading, vegetation control, road crossings and signs.
He has eighteen people working for him, including two track inspectors. “We cover the tracks daily looking for defects,” he says. They follow both Union Pacific and government guidelines and regulations to allow for maximum speed.
Safety is Torres’ most important responsibility. “I have to keep everyone concentrating on safety. When they head out to the job site they need to be focused on the job.”
Torres has a 2006 BSCE from the University of Texas-San Antonio, but his involvement in engineering started earlier. The grandson of Mexican immigrants, Torres grew up in the
Texas border town of Brownsville. In high school he worked for a surveying company. “I’m an outdoor guy,” he says. “I loved the work and decided I wanted to go into civil engineering.” He also worked for the Texas Department of Transportation as an engineering tech for three years while in college.
After graduation he began a two-year training program with UP, working in transportation, cars, signals, bridges and locomotives. “The last six months I was ‘hired out’ to the track department,” he recalls.
“In the beginning I was manager of track maintenance in San Antonio, TX, which is a central hub. Out here in West Texas I have more time to spend with the employees and actually at the tracks. It’s a different pace, and we’re like a family out here,” he says.
Hernan Ojeda is a senior
program engineer at Aerospace
The Aerospace Corp (El Segundo, CA) is a nonprofit that provides advice and guidance to the Air Force, and also works with NASA, NOAA and the Department of Homeland Security. Hernan Ojeda, a senior program engineer at Aerospace, has a 1991 BSIS from California State University Northridge and works as a software engineer. Many of the projects he works on involve software for satellite ground systems.
He’s in a group that evaluates design and sizing estimates for systems, integration with legacy systems, and integration of off-the-shelf software and products into systems delivered to customers. “We try to provide the best system at the lowest cost with the lowest risk of performance failures,” he explains. “We make sure the system is appropriate for the needs of the client and matches the statement of work.”
Aerospace is a matrix organization, so Ojeda can call on a variety of subject experts as needed. “Subject matter experts account for about 50 percent of our technical staff, and many of them are world-class in their fields,” he notes.
Before he entered Cal State to work on his BSIS, Ojeda had his own consulting business. “It was a Porsche auto racing and service business. It was a lot of fun,” he reminisces. After he completed the BS he worked in IT at several technical firms. He joined Aerospace in 2004 as
a member of tech staff in software engineering.
Ojeda was born in Glendale, CA and grew up mainly in California’s San Fernando Valley. Both his parents were born in Mexico, and he lived there for a couple of years as a child.
At work, projects that impact national security are most satisfying to Ojeda. “Aerospace has
a big role to play in this area, and it’s rewarding to know that I’m a part of that,” he says.
Diversity: a competitive edge at Aerospace
“A diverse workforce is an advantage in bringing a variety of viewpoints to all aspects of what we do. This gives us a competitive edge, especially in areas that involve creativity and imagination: key elements of our core technical competencies,” says Benjamina Millado, diversity and EEO director at the Aerospace Corp.
The Aerospace Hispanic Advisory Council, an employee affinity group at the company, attempts to broaden employees’ perspectives through their involvement in cultural awareness activities. The company works with organizations like SHPE and California MESA to recruit Hispanic engineers and technical professionals.
Aerospace CEO Dr. Wanda Austin says, “The Aerospace Corp is proud of its longstanding commitment to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. Our employees bring us a diversity of opinion and approach, which keeps us at the cutting edge of a business that depends on creativity, innovation and imagination.”
At Siemens Energy, Exor Montes
supports power generation
Exor Montes is a project engineer at Siemens Energy (Orlando, FL), the power-generation division of the global Siemens Corp, which has its U.S. HQ in Iselin, NJ. “We make sure the equipment we deliver meets contract requirements from manufacturing through installation and startup,” he explains.
Montes has a 1994 BS in aeronautical/astronautical engineering from Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) and a 2003 MS in IT from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY). But despite his aeronautical interest, a lot of his career has been in power generation. After Purdue he spent four years as a systems engineer in Hughes Aircraft’s electro-optical division (Culver City, CA). He moved on to project engineer at Westinghouse (Schenectady, NY), and in 1999 he got his first experience in power as a new products introduction engineer in steam turbines at GE Power Systems, also in Schenectady.
In 2001 Montes joined the steam turbine operations group at Siemens, where he provided technical back-office and onsite support until 2006. After a short stint as customer service manager at Mitsubishi Power Systems (Orlando, FL) he returned to Siemens in 2008.
The work he’s doing is very stimulating, he says. “You learn something new on every job because every one is different. There are similarities on the broad scale, of course, but the details are always different.” The travel is interesting, too. He goes to Asia, Canada, Spain and Mexico, depending on the project.
Montes was born in Puerto Rico, lived in Venezuela as a kid and came to the U.S. when he was thirteen. He often returns to Puerto Rico to visit family there, taking his wife and young son. “The kid’s Spanish needs some practice, but he may turn out to be an engineer,” Montes says. “He’s always trying to figure out how things work.”
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