African Americans do important work in engineering & technology
These tech pros are bringing their skills to industries from medical therapeutics to national defense
Employers are increasingly convinced that a diverse workplace is the environment where the best technological solutions are generated
By Sonya Stinson
Many African Americans are engaged in fascinating and important work in engineering and technology. But their representation in the U.S. engineering population is still smaller than it should be. Employers who recognize the value of inclusiveness in the workplace would like to see their numbers increase.
A lot of forward-looking companies have a particular interest in a workforce that reflects the diversity of their local communities. Lorraine Webb, VP of organizational development at Philadelphia Gas Works (Philadelphia, PA), notes that the company "makes great efforts to recruit locally. We work through community-based job fairs and cultivate strong community relationships with area high schools, colleges and universities.
"We feel this approach to diversity is important because it builds a workforce that is not only highly qualified, but also reflects our city's many diverse communities and the customers we serve."
Worldwide employers may select their staffs to mirror the diversity of the worldwide community. John Orfanopoulos, manager of talent acquisition for Westinghouse (Cranberry Township, PA), says, "As the nuclear industry and the business world in general continue to grow on a global basis, it is imperative that Westinghouse continues to build a diverse workforce. Critical to our continued success is our ability to attract and retain talented employees who recognize the strength of varied perspectives."
Engineering employers are increasingly convinced that a diverse workplace is the environment where the best technology solutions are created. Robert H. Nardone, VP of HR and admin at General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB, Groton, CT), says, "As we ramp up to design the U.S. Navy's next-generation strategic missile submarine, we expect to hire 200 to 300 engineers a year for the next several years. One of the ways to make sure we are getting the broadest possible range of ideas is to have a workforce as diverse as possible, and that is our recruiting focus."
ME Terence Spruill: keeping the piping shipshape at GDEB
At General Dynamics Electric Boat Corp (GDEB, Groton, CT), Terence Spruill helps ensure that the piping on U.S. Navy-commissioned submarines is shipshape. Spruill is an engineer specialist in the reactor plant planning yard fluid systems group, and he agrees that the work is fast-paced and dynamic.
"For engineers working on commissioned submarines, everything is 'We need it now!' The boat has to get to wherever it's going. Every other day I'm faced with a new challenge that I haven't seen before. I find that very appealing."
Spruill is part of the General Dynamics Future Leaders group, a program aimed at developing the skills and insights of employees who have shown leadership potential. Personal coaching is one aspect of the program. He meets with his mentor every two weeks and gains insights on how he can improve his chances for career advancement.
Spruill has a 1997 BSME from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and is working on an MSCS with a concentration in network security at the University of New Haven (New Haven, CT). He has been at GDEB since 1998, starting as a project engineer in the pump group. In 2003 he was promoted to senior engineer, and spent two years as a nuclear test engineer trainee before moving to his current job.
What's next? In another five years Spruill hopes to become supervisor of an engineering group. But long-range, he'd like to be a director in either engineering or HR. "I'm already recruiting for Electric Boat at North Carolina A&T, Georgia Tech and Manhattan College, and I would like to get a deeper understanding of the hiring process," he says.
HNTB's Abel Manguane: integrating systems for the railroads
At HNTB Corp (Chelmsford, MA), Abel Manguane designs communication systems for the railroad industry.
HNTB is an international architecture, engineering, planning and construction services firm. Manguane's area includes surveillance, visual messaging, public address, radio, telephone and cable transmission systems: both the design work, and developing project estimates and tech specs.
Manguane has a 2006 BSEE from Merrimack College (Andover, MA) and a 2009 MS in telecom systems management from Northeastern University (Boston, MA). He says his studies gave him a foundation in basic engineering principles and concepts that now lets him work in several engineering disciplines.
"College provided the groundwork necessary for me to adapt in this environment," says Manguane, who began working at HNTB four years ago. College internships also provided experience that's been an asset in his current job. Especially useful was his internship with Pannaway Technologies (Portsmouth, NH), where he worked in integration engineering, configuring and running test scripts and debugging software.
"Now I work on projects that require a lot of integration, not just with different disciplines but also among different systems," Manguane says.
He enjoys getting to learn something new every day on the job. "I am currently designing an integrated security system for multiple locations," he notes. "It requires an integration of systems like video surveillance, access control, intercom and intrusion detection. There's a lot to be learned in a project of this scope and magnitude."
Designing several integrated subsystems simultaneously is the most challenging part of the job. "If an aspect in one subsystem is overlooked it can impact the design of another subsystem and jeopardize the final product," he notes.
In the future Manguane hopes to earn a PhD in a field like telecom or communication systems. He also plans to work on an MBA, with an eye to a management position at HNTB.
Dr Aaron Brundage is an engineering scientist at Sandia National Labs
Since his job involves national security, Dr Aaron Brundage can't talk about the specific projects he works on at Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, NM). His official title is senior member of the technical staff, but he thinks "engineering scientist" more accurately describes his role.
"I do computational modeling and simulation and code development," says Brundage. "I develop material models and do some project management. I'm also responsible for both internal publication of my work and external publication in journals and conference proceedings."
Brundage has a 1995 BS and a 1996 MS in ME from Pennsylvania State University. After getting the MS he began applying to doctoral programs, and took a position as an intern at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, a naval nuclear facility in Pittsburgh.
"Working there I was able to obtain a U.S. security clearance, which proved to be valuable later on here at Sandia," he says.
He did an internship at Sandia while earning his 2004 PhD in mechanical engineering at Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN), and, "Most interns here do just one project, but because I came in with a security clearance and could hit the ground running, I was able to do four projects," he says.
Most of his current projects have a research component. "You have to have an intellectual curiosity. You have to be curious about how things work, and you have to be willing to explain clearly what you've done, why it's important and why it makes sense. There's an element of salesmanship involved."
After hours, Brundage is into a number of community activities that encourage kids to enjoy STEM subjects. He and Christy, his wife, started ABQ's Playroom, a children's enrichment center where he sometimes puts on fun classes in subjects like robotics with Lego blocks.
Lawrence Russell is a staff engineer at PGW
At first glance Lawrence Russell's current job as a staff engineer with Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW, Philadelphia, PA) seems very different from his previous work designing HVAC, mechanical and plumbing systems at engineering consulting firms. But Russell, an ME by training, says there's continuity in his career path.
"Most of my projects involved moving fluid, whether it's gas or liquid, and getting it from Point A to Point B," Russell explains.
Before joining PGW in 2010 Russell spent two years at Clark, Richardson and Bishop Consulting Engineers (Plymouth Meeting, PA), following a year with Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc (Herndon, VA).
At PGW Russell collaborates with plant engineers to develop problem-solving design concepts. "Most projects start with an issue at one of the plants where PGW liquefies natural gas. We do that by lowering the temperature of natural gas to -258 F at atmospheric pressure. Once it's liquefied we can store about 49 million gallons of LNG in two 230-foot diameter concrete tanks.
"One thing I really appreciate about working at PGW is that I'm exposed to an array of projects," he says. "I might work on a low-pressure half-inch piping system or a twenty-four-inch, high-pressure system. I might add a platform to reach a valve, or work on renovating or adding an entire building."
Once a design is proposed he prepares a project estimate and specs, calculations and sizing. He oversees preparation of design drawings and reviews the plan with the plant and construction staff.
As a college student Russell participated in a dual-degree scholarship program. He earned a 2003 BS in the science of engineering from Lincoln University (Lincoln University, PA) and a 2006 BSME from Temple University (Philadelphia, PA).
An internship in HVAC design clued him in on what he could expect in the workplace, "not only the engineering but the relationships," he says. He also thinks his internship experience doing construction drawings gave him an advantage when he entered the job market.
Russell would eventually like to be a project manager at PGW and he intends to go back to school for an MBA. He remembers how his mother, an educator, encouraged him to study engineering.
"When I was young I really didn't know much about what an engineer did, other than that it sounded pretty cool," he says. "But I went to an engineering-focused high school, did well in math and science, and from there I knew I was on the right path."
Toya Kimble does pharmaceutical research at Medtronic Spinal
Dr Toya Kimble joined Medtronic (Memphis, TN) in 2005 and has been senior scientist in biologics R&D in the company's Spinal business unit since 2008. This Medtronic business specializes in spinal and biologic therapies, including sophisticated bone grafting biologics and technologies.
In her job as an R&D scientist in biologics and pharma she switches among several roles. "I might do pure R&D, where I manage and organize non-clinical animal studies that support our products in development," she says. "That involves study designs and protocols, and interaction with our contract research organizations." She sometimes travels to monitor studies being done at the contract research labs, but she may also troubleshoot from her base location.
"I also work with several internal cross-functional groups to streamline product development processes," she says. That means documenting the product development process from concept to commercialization, and staying in compliance with federal regulations and guides for research.
Kimble has a 1992 BS in biology from Christian Brothers University (Memphis, TN) and a 2003 PhD in anatomy and neurobiology from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC, Memphis, TN). She says her entry into the field of neurobiology was "unintentional."
"I started out being interested in going to medical school to be a pediatrician," Kimble says. But after a summer research project in a neurobiology lab at UTHSC she "caught the research bug" and decided to go to grad school instead.
Her Medtronic pharma research team of about a dozen people is small for the therapeutics industry, but she thinks it works more effectively than many larger groups. "We have a pretty unique interdependence," she says. "We rely on and trust each other and we all know that we're working toward the same goals."
At ITT, David Duchatellier specifies components for purchase
As a components engineer at ITT Corp (North Amityville, NY) David Duchatellier works closely with companies that make electrical parts. He's based in ITT's electronic systems division, which makes radio systems for the U.S. military, Federal Aviation Admin and other government agencies.
"I specify the components that need to be purchased for hardware to be built by this division," says Duchatellier, who joined ITT in 1982. "Before our design engineers use a component, they come to me for approval. We research the component and make sure it's available and a good fit for the application."
Duchatellier particularly enjoys the variety in his job. "Every day there's a different challenge," he says. "It could be that a part used in a system is unavailable and now I have to find a replacement for it. Or they need a few pieces to keep the customer's fleet going, so I'm tasked to research where we can find them, or if I can't find that part, something that's a very close replacement."
One of Duchatellier's projects has recently completed its first three development stages, and "Now we are about to go through a detailed critical design review," Duchatellier says. "It's exciting because we're taking an old box, keeping it the same outside and changing the entire inside to something completely new."
Duchatellier's fascination with electronics goes back to his childhood in Haiti, when he built what he calls a "play radio" out of a safety pin, a crystal and an antenna. After moving to the U.S. he finished high school in Brooklyn, NY and earned a 1979 AAS in electrical technology from New York City Technical College, a 1982 BSEE from Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, NY) and a 1989 MS in TV and radio broadcasting from Brooklyn College (Brooklyn, NY).
Not only does this former "play radio" tinkerer know how to put together a real radio, but he also knows how to produce its program content in the unlikely event that he wants to make a career switch from engineering to entertainment.
Reggie Dulaney is a Westinghouse Customer First leader
Reggie Dulaney is a Customer First leader at Westinghouse Electric Co (Cranberry Township, PA). He recently completed a two-year Westinghouse leadership training program that involved learning various lean manufacturing tools and other ways to improve efficiency. Westinghouse designs and services plants and equipment for the commercial nuclear electric power industry.
"What I learned is a different way of thinking, a different way of attacking a problem: looking at it more systematically, taking a more strategic approach and making your decision based on data instead of just an engineering judgment," Dulaney says.
Dulaney started working at Westinghouse in 1998 after graduating from Ohio State University with a BSME. "I started out doing handling-tool design for nuclear plants," he says. "They were thirty-foot tools used when you're working on the reactor or spent fuel."
Over the years Dulaney has discovered that project management is what he likes best. "I like interfacing with people," he says. "I didn't mind design work, but I didn't like doing the analytical number crunching. It's not me."
Advancing through the Customer First program gave Dulaney an opportunity to mentor other engineers, work he especially enjoys. The most challenging aspect of the program was "motivating people to get the work done." Because Customer First projects are funded internally, the engineers involved often have to put them aside to work on externally-funded projects: "the work that's bringing in money," Dulaney explains.
The impact of the leadership program is not limited to how engineering problems get solved. One of Dulaney's projects focused on how to cut the corporate meetings budget.
"We were spending a lot of money on meetings, and we weren't leveraging our expense," Dulaney explains. "Administrative assistants were scheduling meetings and there was no way to track how many times they scheduled with specific vendors."
Dulaney and his team suggested that better information tracking would let the company save money through volume discounts. "We worked out ways to get money back from some of the vendors we use," he says, "and now it's a lot easier to schedule meetings."
Microsoft's J.C. Cannon directs privacy strategy for online services
In two years on the job, Cannon has helped develop tools to enhance privacy, including Bing's "safe search" function, to prevent sensitive information from reaching the wrong eyes.
He has been with Microsoft for thirteen years, and previously worked on compliance strategy in the company's SQL Server division. "I helped companies build database apps that protected information based on their policies," he says.
Cannon is a U.S. Navy vet. He started college at Michigan State University majoring in computer programming, then moved to the University of Texas-Dallas for his 1981 BS in math.
He spent most of his early career with several software startup companies. "I wanted to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but my startups didn't make it like Microsoft," he reflects with a smile. Then Microsoft itself "made me an offer I couldn't refuse, so I came up to Seattle in 1998," he says.
Cannon has found that adapting to changes in the job market and taking advantage of new opportunities are keys to a successful technology career. His advice: "Read the trade publications, immerse yourself in new technology. Buy the gadgets, use the software. For programmers, the language that companies use changes constantly, so it's important to keep up to date.
"Even though you're passionate about a technology, when you see it's not going to make it you've got to let it go," he adds.
Arthur Burson: project management for Merck
"Twenty-eight years ago I answered a job posting for a project engineer," says Arthur Burson. "I'm currently leading the group I hired into twenty-eight years ago."
Burson is in charge of design, construction, project management and oversight for worldwide facilities of pharmaceutical giant Merck & Company (West Point, PA): everything from manufacturing plants and labs to commercial office space and data centers. He supervises about 300 direct employees.
He has a 1980 BSME from North Carolina A&T State University and a 1989 MBA from Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ). Even his early school years seemed to point to a likely career in engineering.
"I grew up really strong in math and the sciences," Burson says. "My dad was a math and chemistry major, so you can imagine the tutorial sessions in math and science. I liked to solve problems, too, and always had an affinity for trying to figure out how things worked, so engineering was a good fit for those kinds of skill sets."
In college Burson completed summer internships and co-ops with Ford Motor Company. He was interested in working in the automotive industry, "But when I graduated, that industry was in a really bad way," he says. So he worked at Exxon for three years as a cost engineer in the project management organization. When that industry also went through an up and down cycle he moved to Merck.
He reflects that managing is the most demanding aspect of his current job. "When you're leading people, having to motivate people, having to understand people, having to coach and develop people, it's the most rewarding thing you can do, but it's also the most challenging thing you do!"
Victor Gavin: civilian executive director in the U.S. Navy
Looking back on a twenty-nine-year career as a civilian in the U.S. Navy, Victor Gavin notes that it all began with a high school co-op job and college scholarship to North Carolina A&T State University. "In high school I went to a series of summer engineering programs. Then a relative introduced me to the U.S. Navy's cooperative education program," Gavin says. North Carolina A&T had a scholarship program funded by the Navy; an A&T faculty member called Gavin's guidance counselor and suggested that program for him.
Gavin's only previous connection with the Navy was "an uncle who was in the Navy band." It took some prodding from his parents, but he finally accepted the scholarship and the career opportunity that came with it.
Today Gavin is exec director for the Navy's Program Executive Office, Littoral and Mine Warfare (PEO LMW, Washington, DC). Gavin is second in command of an office that manages 225 programs and handles $2 to $3 billion in annual revenue. He's responsible for "the acquisition and fielding of the U.S. Navy's mine warfare capabilities," he explains.
Gavin received a 1985 BSEE from North Carolina A&T and a 1996 MS in systems engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Soon after getting his BS he took a job at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NAVSEA, New London, CT).
"I worked there for three years as an entry-level engineer," Gavin says. "I got hands-on experience in power systems and submarine sonar systems which proved very valuable to me."
Gavin went on to a job as a Navy rep at a Lockheed Martin facility in Manassas, VA, where he worked on design of submarine combat systems. He was an engineering and program manager at NAVSEA HQ in Washington, DC, and joined the PEO LMW three years ago.
An important part of the job is reaching out to small businesses to help develop technology solutions for the Navy. Gavin is also an active participant in outreach programs to encourage more kids to study STEM subjects. And he heads up the NAVSEA scholarship program for students at HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.
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