Hispanics go the extra mile to create and lead in engineering
“The most critical role Hispanics will play as engineers will be to inspire Hispanic youth to pursue degrees in STEM” – Raul Muñoz, Jr, MAES
Earning additional degrees, learning new languages and diversifying work experiences help Hispanic engineers succeed and lead
By Dan Margherita
Senior Contributing Editor
Raul Muñoz, Jr is executive director of MAES: Latinos in Science & Engineering (Houston, TX). He notes that by the year 2050, Hispanics will represent almost a quarter of the U.S. population. “Undoubtedly, we will continue to make a significant impact in all sectors of the job market,” he says.
“To attract Hispanic talent, companies are working closely with Hispanic student organizations to highlight career opportunities, benefits, and company cultures. Companies that are most effective encourage their Hispanic engineers to remain engaged on campus as well.”
When companies connect their Hispanic employees with students pursuing STEM degrees, Muñoz says, the employees can serve as role models and mentors for students that might otherwise be at a disadvantage entering the workforce.
“This is particularly true of those who are the first in their family to attend college,” he explains. “They benefit tremendously from the experiences of mentors as they learn about the benefits of a summer internship or co-op, while exploring the various career paths available to them.
“The most critical role Hispanics will play as engineers now and in the future, will be one of inspiration to Hispanic youth to pursue degrees in STEM. They’ll serve as role models for those who will follow in their footsteps,” says Muñoz.
Damian Tamayo does coding at General Dynamics C4 Systems
“The people you work with make your job worth going to,” says Damian Tamayo, software engineer at General Dynamics C4 Systems (C4 Systems, Scottsdale, AZ). Tamayo works on the company’s Command Post of the Future (CPOF) project that enables commanders and their staffs to plan, execute and assess operations over tactical networks from widespread locations. One CPOF system, running on a commercial off-the-shelf computer workstation with multiple screens, can support more than 300 simultaneous users.
General Dynamics C4 Systems is a business unit of General Dynamics and an integrator of secure communication and information systems and technology.
Tamayo is involved in programming. “If an external customer needs something or has identified a bug, I’m one of the people notified. I analyze the issue to determine if it is in a new functionality or some other defect and assess how much time it will take to solve. Then I either perform the solution or hand it off to someone else.”
Tamayo, a Mexican American and a native of Kansas City, KS, has always been interested in technology. “I was always curious about what you could do with it,” he remembers. “As I grew up, it became less abstract, something that I could work with and enjoy. By the time I was in high school and looking toward college, I knew that computers would make me happy in my job.”
Tamayo started at Johnson County Community College (JCCC, Overland Park, KS) taking liberal arts and entry-level computer classes. After receiving his associates degree in 2005, he transferred to Kansas State University (KSU, Manhattan, KS) where he received his BS in computer information systems in 2007 and an MS in software engineering in 2009.
“At JCCC, I worked in the academic counseling center. I learned that it’s difficult to get a masters degree after you graduate and get a job, so I decided to get everything all at once.”
However, his time at Kansas State was not all academic. “I did four internships at KSU that were enormously helpful in translating my academic background to industry. It’s a lot of work but you have to get your foot in the door,” he says.
Tamayo interned at Cerner Corporation (Kansas City, MO), a provider of electronic medical records for hospitals. This was followed by internships at semiconductor and software designer LSI (Wichita, KS), at Lockheed Martin STS (Orlando, FL) and, finally, C4 Systems.
Tamayo enjoyed all these jobs but C4 Systems stood out. “I enjoyed the work atmosphere, the people, and the technology that was being used,” he says. “I had done different assignments as an intern and was offered a job at the end of my C4 Systems internship.” Tamayo has been at C4 Systems since 2009 and looks forward to advancing in the CPOF project.
The importance of diversity and inclusion
Rich Skelnik, C4 Systems director of talent acquisition and community investment, says, “General Dynamics C4 Systems fosters a culture of inclusion. Our talent acquisition strategy includes ongoing engagement with a wide variety of groups including the National Society of Black Engineers, Sentinels of Freedom, Society of Women Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and others. Everyone brings a unique perspective to their work team and organization and that is part of what helps our company attract and retain the brightest and the best.”
Edgardo Caban brings his energy experience to NYPA
Last November, just a week after Hurricane Sandy devastated many parts of the East Coast, including portions of New York City and particularly Staten Island, Edgardo Caban, lead project engineer for the New York Power Authority (NYPA, White Plains, NY), explains how his employer stepped up to help.
“As a government authority, we have a responsibility to assist communities,” he says. “The first thing we did was review current NYPA projects and make sure that there was no damage to them. Then we offered help to our customers with their restoration needs. We also created a list of contractors and vendors who could fill those needs quickly.”
With seventeen generating facilities and more than 1,400 circuit miles of transmission lines, NYPA is the largest state public power utility in the United States. Caban is responsible for the development and implementation of cost-effective, direct-install projects that cover all end uses. His group manages and implements multiple lighting, HVAC, controls, and building envelope energy conservation projects, along with new project development. Major projects are coordinated across multiple engineering disciplines.
“From my perspective, it’s good business to work safely and pay attention to things like schedules and budgets,” Caban says. “That was part of my upbringing and it carries over to my job today.
“I always liked science and thought that electrical engineering would be a good challenge for me,” recalls Caban, who grew up in Puerto Rico. “I felt it was a field that changed constantly and would keep me interested.” In 1990, he graduated with a BS in electrical engineering from Recinto Universitario Mayaguez (Mayaguez, PR).
A career built in energy
Caban found a job with the Department of Energy (DOE) in Puerto Rico, a subdivision of the U.S. DOE. He became involved in implementation of energy conservation projects. “It interested me a lot,” he says. “At the time, it was a challenge to get people to think about saving energy.”
Caban was with DOE for four years before moving to New York in 1993 and taking a job with Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG, Newark, NJ). He reviewed lighting, HVAC, fuel switching and other investment proposals to determine timeframes, funding limitations, and procedures.
After four years, he moved to Florida Power & Light Company (Miami, FL) as a project manager. “It was an opportunity to work with a group like the one I was with at PSEG but to use my bilingual capabilities.”
He moved to American Standard/ Trane South Florida in 2006. “Now I wasn’t managing from a supervisory standpoint. I was part of a contractor group so we were actually implementing the work.”
Caban joined NYPA in 2009 as a lead project engineer. He has four direct reports: an architect, two engineers and a licensed electrician.
“NYPA works for government agencies, schools, hospitals, and police and fire departments. We’re helping the community. I supervise a diverse group of individuals.” He employs his technical, managerial and people skills to deal with internal and external stakeholders. Caban is the face of the Power Authority at many school board, city, state and other official meetings
He belongs to the Association of Energy Engineers (Atlanta, GA), a group focusing on energy conservation.
“There are a lot of opportunities within NYPA,” Caban says enthusiastically. “I think that the energy conservation field is strong and growing.”
L’Oréal engineer Yasmin Besonia: from semiconductors to skincare
L’Oréal USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of L’Oréal SA (Paris, France), the world’s largest beauty products company. In 2000, L’Oréal acquired Kiehl’s, a company that began in 1851 as a homeopathic pharmacy on New York’s Lower East Side. Today, it is part of the company’s Luxe division which also includes Clarisonic, Lancôme, YSL Beauté, Giorgio Armani, Viktor & Rolf, Ralph Lauren, and most recently, Urban Decay.
Yasmin Besonia is Kiehl’s launch manager for L’Oréal USA, working at its Piscataway, NJ plant. She works as a project and supply chain engineer on the Kiehl’s brand.
“I own the manufacturing process of new product launches for Kiehl’s,” says Besonia. “Development works with marketing, then marketing comes in with an idea and the operations team is charged with executing it. I am part of operations. I work with external and internal teams in the plant that work with our vendors, and I align everything to see that it is on track.”
Half Dominican and half Puerto Rican, Besonia is a first-generation U.S. citizen who was born in the Bronx, NY. She attended Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), starting in chemical engineering, but changed to material science and engineering midway through. “I gravitated toward engineering because it is a way to be artistic with science,” she explains. She earned her undergraduate degree in 2008.
She started her career at Intel (Santa Clara, CA) working in Phoenix, AZ. “At Cornell, I attended informational sessions for different companies, and did my own research and networking before I joined Intel. The opportunity was so great that I couldn’t pass it up. Semiconductors is an up-and-coming field and I liked the idea of working on a product that people needed.
“I worked in the substrates materials department, running experiments to determine what the root causes of defects were. I got to travel and work with people from other cultures and I knew that it would be a great base for my career.”
Changing coasts, changing industries
After a couple of years, Besonia yearned to come back East. “I wanted to be closer to my family,” she says. “I wanted a change, and I wanted experience in supply chain and manufacturing. I had heard great things about L’Oréal and had a friend who worked in marketing here.”
Besonia joined L’Oréal USA in the fall of 2011, and she loves her job. “It’s fantastic to go to stores and see the name. I liked that about Intel too, that people saw the emblem, and friends said that they liked products that I had a hand in making.
“It is an entirely different kind of industry. Intel is engineering driven and L’Oréal is marketing driven. My role is also completely different. At Intel, I was closer to the beginning of the product whereas here, the product is already developed and it’s really the packaging and fulfillment that I manage. I actually get to see the finished product.
“There are two aspects to my job,” she reports. “There is the managing portion, but the technical side comes in when we have issues while running. I go out to the floor, talk with people to try to find out what the root causes are and resolve them. It isn’t as technical as what we did at Intel but that’s one of the reasons I moved to L’Oréal, to understand the manufacturing process.”
Growing up, she knew that engineering would provide the variety that she wanted. “It was the best decision I ever made,” she says. “I can’t imagine being in any other career. I like diversity and knowing that my job will never bore me.”
Besonia is involved in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).
After just over a year at L’Oréal, she is developing valuable skills and experience in project management. “After a few years, I would like to move into quality or packaging because I expect them to be more technical. I enjoy technology and don’t want to lose access to it. I want to be sure engineering is part of my life.”
Study in Germany helps Marco Valencia make it at SAP North America
“Imagine a Mexican in Eastern Germany, in 1995,” says Marco Valencia. “It was only five years after the East German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania reunited with Germany as part of the German unification. People there were familiar with Russians, Poles and other Eastern Europeans, but a Mexican?”
Last November, Valencia was promoted to VP and head of the SAP Global Upgrade Office. SAP AG (Walldorf, Germany) is a global provider of enterprise software and software-related services. SAP North America (Newtown Square, PA) is a subsidiary of SAP AG that oversees the company’s business operations in the United States and Canada.
Valencia was born and raised in Mexico City. His international academic credentials include a BS in industrial and systems engineering from the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (Mexico City, Mexico) in 1994, graduate studies in quality management engineering from the Hochschule Wismar University of Technology, Business and Design (Wismar, Germany) in 1996, and an MBA from Georgia State University (Atlanta, GA) in 2002.
“In Mexico, I debated whether to take a deep dive into specializations like electrical or mechanical engineering or go ‘half-and-half:’ do engineering but retain the ability to shift into management. I decided on half-and-half.”
Before he graduated, Valencia worked for an IT solutions provider in Mexico City called Softtek. “At that time, Softtek was very strong in the financial services industry,” says Valencia. “I worked with its consulting arm doing process re-engineering.”
After a couple of years, Valencia felt a call to study abroad. But college in the U.S. was unaffordable. “So I went to the International Exchange Unit of Mexico, which has a student exchange arrangement with foreign countries. The engineering program in Germany caught my eye,” he recalls.
“The big question was, ‘could I learn German before entering school?’ It was very tough and at times I thought I would never make it. I used my scholarship money to hire a teacher to help me become more fluent in the personal interaction side of the language rather than just grammar.”
Serendipitous intro to SAP
Valencia completed his studies in 1996 and returned to Mexico, looking for German-based companies like Bayer or BMW with locations in his country. “At that point, my German was better than my English,” he smiles. “I attended a job fair at my university and SAP was there. Their Mexican subsidiary was only a few years old and they needed people who could work with Germany. I was interviewed by a German, in German, and they hired me on the spot.”
He started as a production planning consultant and spent three months in Boston learning the system. SAP was getting ready to introduce its new
implementation methodology, Accelerated SAP (ASAP). Its goal was to effectively optimize time, people, quality and other resources, focusing on tools and training for SAP R/3 Rapid Implementations.
“With my production planning and implementation background, I was one of the few consultants who knew about the implementation of ASAP and I was chosen to work on it,” explains Valencia. “My project manager took me aside and said, ‘Marco, if you want a career at SAP, you need to do it in the United States where you can leverage all your skills.’”
Accelerated SAP was a big success and Valencia was invited to participate in an information exchange around implementation methods. The person in charge of that group asked him to join her team, and he relocated to the U.S. in 1998. “I came for a two-year engagement and now it’s been fourteen years,” he smiles.
Working with customers on business technology
Today, Valencia is responsible for managing a team of upgrade competency center principals and the overall customer adoption for SAP ERP 6.0, SAP Business Suite 7 and SAP Enhancement Packages.
Valencia has twenty-three people reporting to him. The team is made up of business development people, principals who have strong relationships with clients, and business directors who can articulate the technical capabilities and business value of SAP’s latest releases.
“In my role as overall customer adoption manager, I attend customer meetings and discuss specific aspects of the technology,” he explains. “It’s an eye-opener to learn how customers use our products. I explain how to operate systems, but not in a superficial way. Customers appreciate the fact that I can talk about the technology in detail. I’m able to talk business with them but if they want to go deep into the technology, I can do that too.”
Engineer Guillermo Smith: broad industry knowledge at Cummins
Guillermo Smith is a program manager in the fuel systems group at Cummins, a global firm that designs, manufactures, distributes and services engines and related technologies.
“We deliver new products and designs in a timely manner, on budget and on spec,” he explains.
“My work is more related to leadership than to technical specifics but I know a little bit of everything,” Smith says. “For example, we listen to our customers to understand their fuel systems requirements. If the customer says ‘this is the kind of product we need for a particular application,’ then we need to meet these parameters in a certain length of time.
“I gather a team, show them the customer expectations, explain the budget and schedule. Then we create a schedule to develop the product package.”
The composition of the team depends on the complexity of the project and includes engineers as well as non-engineers in marketing, manufacturing, supply chain, and customer care. Smith has no direct reports. “That makes my role more challenging and exciting,” he admits. “Even though I am not their manager, I have to convey the message, ask folks to perform, and get the results that we need.”
Choosing a direction thoughtfully
Smith was born and raised in San Luis Potosí in central Mexico. “I always enjoyed working on school projects and I consider myself a creative person with fair math skills. I guess that would put me in the engineering category,” he smiles.
He attended Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí (San Luis Potosí, Mexico) graduating in 2000 with a degree in mechanical engineering and administration. “The university’s school of engineering is one of the top ten in the country,” Smith adds with pride.
“My degree is what is more commonly known as industrial engineering,” Smith explains. “You benefit from a broader field of exposure, not tied to just the mechanical stuff. You learn about quality, finance and other areas. When you are in school, you don’t always know if one particular thing is what you want to do.”
His first job out of college was at Mabe (San Luis Potosí), a global producer of appliances and a joint venture with GE Appliances. In 2003, a friend told him about a supply chain position at Cummins as a supplier quality engineer, auditing outside suppliers to make sure that they complied with Cummins policies.
He decided to make the move. “More than anything, I was always attracted to the automotive and aerospace industries. Friends who worked here had good things to say about the company’s core values and great working environment. So the product and the culture brought me here.”
In 2006, Smith was transferred to Wisconsin as a quality leader for the Cummins Filtrations crankcase ventilation program. In 2012, he came to the fuel systems group in Indiana.
He is a certified “associate value specialist” with SAVE International (Dayton, OH), a society devoted to the advancement of value methodology. “I conduct workshops for adding value systematically to any kind of product,” he explains. Smith holds three U.S. patents, one as the patent leader. He is also a Six Sigma green belt.
“Hispanics are very passionate by nature and I bring that passion to everything that I do,” he reflects. “Looking ahead, I see myself in a leadership role in the relationship between the United States and markets in Latin America and South America.”
Ramon Ortiz-Morgado provides construction leadership at Black & Veatch PR
“This is a small island but there are thousands of different water and wastewater facilities,” notes Ramon Ortiz-Morgado, construction manager in the water division of Black & Veatch Puerto Rico. “We execute professional management of construction projects for the Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority,” he explains. “It’s one of our primary local clients.”
Black & Veatch (Overland Park, KS) is an employee-owned, global engineering, consulting and construction company specializing in infrastructure development. Ortiz-Morgado explains that, among other responsibilities, Black & Veatch Puerto Rico manages the construction performance of projects, handling time schedules and budgets as well as quality of the work executed and job-site safety. A field engineering staff is assigned to each project, and is responsible for the overall supervision of contractor performance.
“As construction managers,” he explains, “we’re involved in all stages of a project: pre-construction planning, the actual construction, post-construction startups and owner occupancy. One of the most important things that we do is change order management. We do this at the earliest stages of the project through design and constructability reviews. We check for design accuracy and completeness of the contract documents, and we also look for any potential obstructions or conflicts between, say, mechanical and electrical work. Identifying potential problems early means that there won’t be as many delays and cost overruns during construction.”
Black & Veatch’s management work for the authority ranges from small pumping stations to large water filtration plants and wastewater treatment facilities. “We oversee new construction and also the rehabilitation and expansion of existing facilities. A lot of the infrastructure in Puerto Rico is decades old. There has been tremendous population growth so you have to both retrofit existing facilities and bring new ones on line to meet the demand.”
Ortiz-Morgado is a native Puerto Rican. “I always had a technical inclination,” he remembers. “In my twenties, I took courses in drafting and worked as a surveyor’s assistant. In the U.S. Army Reserve, I worked as a heavy construction equipment operator under the direction of officers who were civil engineers. That was my first exposure to what a civil engineer does and I said to myself, ‘I want to be like those guys.’”
Pursuing an educational dream
He started college at the University of Puerto Rico, but after three years he satisfied a lifelong desire to pursue his education in the United States. He transferred to the University of Akron (Akron, OH) and received his undergraduate degree in civil engineering in 1999. He got his masters in CE in 2006.
He got his first post-grad job in 2001, working in Kansas City, MO as a structural engineer for Pullman Power LLC (Hanover, MD), a company that does chimney design and construction for power plants.
Within less than two years, family matters necessitated his return to Puerto Rico, where he found a job in construction management at Biothane Corp (Camden, NJ), a biotech company specializing in anaerobic technologies for industrial wastewater treatment. In 2007 he came to Black & Veatch as a construction engineer.
Ortiz-Morgado is a member of the Construction Management Association of America (McLean, VA) and several other professional societies. He’s registered as a professional engineer in Florida and Puerto Rico.
“Black & Veatch is an organization full of professional opportunities and challenges that have helped my career,” says Ortiz-Morgado. “Right now, I’m focused on reaching my certification as a construction manager and I’m also getting my license to be a professional structural engineer. I believe these will add value to the organization and will be a keystone to business development locally and around the world.”
Theresa Bridges, military and diversity outreach lead at Black & Veatch, adds, “Black & Veatch continues to grow in the global marketplace. Our diverse workforce helps us succeed and provide innovative solutions for our clients’ complex challenges.”
Engineer Jorge Carvajal works in safety systems at Westinghouse
Aspiring basketball player Jorge Carvajal came from Ecuador to the United States with a friend whose brother was a high school basketball coach. His basketball career didn’t happen, but he found success nonetheless. Today, Carvajal is a principal engineer in the safety systems and upgrades group at Westinghouse (Pittsburgh, PA).
“Safety systems keep civilian, electricity-producing nuclear power plants safe. We electronically monitor characteristics including plant temperature and pressure. I do some design and project management. I also get assigned to teams where I may be the technical lead or a project manager, depending upon the need.
“Our team usually includes not only engineers but also quality assurance representatives, plus manufacturing and drafting people. Right now, I’m helping to develop the next generation of safety systems for domestic nuclear power plants,” he says.
“When I get the time and there is funding available, I do some research and development, which is a lot of fun,” he adds. “This is a highly regulated industry. There are a lot of policies and procedures that we have to go through, and that should make the public feel safe,” he reports.
Finding success as a foreigner
Carvajal has been at Westinghouse for five years but in his current role for a little more than one year. He came to the United States in 1997 when he was a senior in high school, and his family still lives in Ecuador. His parents are both electrical engineers and this had a huge impact upon his career choice. “I never had any doubt about what I wanted to do in school,” he says.
He attended Penn State University (State College, PA) and earned his BS in electrical engineering in 2002. “Right before I graduated, 9/11 happened,” Carvajal reflects. “That was a tragic event and it made it difficult for a lot of people to find a job, especially people like me, to be honest, because I was a foreigner. I didn’t have any offers of employment when I graduated.”
Later in 2002, Carvajal chose a job at a small start-up company, Artemis, Inc (Hauppauge, NY), as a hardware engineer and later, a design engineer. “We were a tier two subcontractor to companies like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, working for the Department of Defense on radar and sensing devices,” he explains. “It was hands-on work.”
Five years later, he left Artemis to join Westinghouse. “My wife is from Pittsburgh and she wanted to come back here to be close to her family,” Carvajal explains.
He started as a senior engineer in the Common Q hardware group, working with safety systems and electronics. “I was doing more design work and just learning the industry,” remembers Carvajal.
He is a member of SHPE and also the International Society of Automation (ISA). At ISA, Carvajal is co-chair of a working group to create standards for wireless communications in the nuclear industry.
“At Westinghouse, you can go in three or four different directions. I could take an engineering path or a project management path. I lean toward the technical side and I hope one day to become an engineering Fellow.”
“Westinghouse Electric, like other successful global companies, finds that it is imperative to build a diverse workforce,” says John Orfanopoulos, manager of talent acquisition for the company. “We must continue to hire and retain a talented and diverse workforce to bring in new ideas and challenging perspectives, and deliver success to our worldwide customer base.”
Maj Francisco Perez De Armas, munitions safety chief at AFRL
“The story of how I became an engineer is kind of weird,” admits Maj Francisco J. Perez De Armas, chief of safety for the munitions directorate in the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Perez De Armas has been stationed at Eglin AFB, FL since 2010.
“Growing up in Puerto Rico, I was always fascinated with mechanics but it never entered my mind to become an engineer,” he says. “In fact, when I attended the University of Puerto Rico (UPR, Bayamon campus), I earned my first BS in business administration in 1996.”
Making the extra effort to succeed
As graduation neared, Perez De Armas had offers only for minimum wage jobs. “I was insulted,” he says. “I started asking around about other careers and was told that engineering would be a much safer profession.
“So while I was finishing up my last credits toward my business degree, I was also taking classes toward one in engineering. Since I didn’t have enough money for a second degree, I enlisted in the Air National Guard and did my basic training at Lackland AFB (San Antonio, TX).”
When he found out that he could have enlisted as an officer with his undergraduate degree, he returned to Puerto Rico and joined the ROTC unit at UPR. He passed the Air Force officer qualification test, and was commissioned in 2000, the same year he earned a BS in mechanical engineering from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (San Juan, PR).
“I wanted to serve and I wanted to be back in the United States,” he says, “but it was important to me to come back as an officer.”
Perez De Armas’ first assignment was at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH. “It was challenging because I was still having trouble with the language. I knew and understood English but it was hard for me to think in Spanish and have to translate it before I could communicate.” But he persevered, starting as a manufacturing engineer in the C-17 program office.
In 2002, still at Wright-Patterson, he moved into an AFRL role as an air vehicle supportability engineer working on automatic collision avoidance systems, designed to avoid midair collisions between aircraft during fueling. “In the Air Force, we’re told that we are officers and leaders first, then engineers,” explains Perez De Armas. “So a lot of my time was spent mentoring junior officers.”
In 2004, he was assigned to Tinker AFB (Oklahoma City, OK) as a deputy chief engineer with the 498th Missile Sustainment Group. “I was doing reliability and sustainment engineering with the cruise missiles production group,” he says.
In 2006, he was assigned to the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC) outside of Marietta, GA. “I worked as the lead engineer on a program with Lockheed Martin for the C-5 aircraft. It involved changing the cockpit from analog to digital technology.
“I was also deployed to Afghanistan for a few months to work on testing of the MQ-9 Reaper, an unmanned, remotely piloted aircraft,” he adds.
In 2010, he came to Eglin, joining the Miniature Munitions Division. He directed branch operations for a joint seventy-member team during engineering, manufacturing and development. He also led the development and integration of an all-weather moving target weapon valued at $5.4 billion.
Today, he works in the AFRL on all aspects of ground and air safety including weaponry and hazardous materials, directing safety operations for a 150-member team and ensuring that all environmental and occupational health programs are on track.
“We don’t do that much technical other than overseeing the contractors; however, we are subject matter experts on the design of the program. If we identify risks, or if there is a mishap, we categorize the issues and recommend corrective action.”
Three years ago, Perez De Armas received an MBA from Oklahoma City University (Oklahoma City, OK). He sees himself moving away from hands-on technology. “I’ve done a lot of technical work but I don’t mind the change,” he explains. “I have the opportunity to do something different, perhaps at the Pentagon or the Air Force Materiel Command. The ability to start making policy excites me.”
Dr David Walker, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology and engineering, says that “the Air Force views it as an imperative that we bring different backgrounds and ethnicities onto our team. Fostering diversity enhances the development of innovative solutions to the complex technical problems of today’s world.” Walker is the functional manager for all scientists and engineers in the Air Force.
“We are encouraging all our airmen to increase their technical acumen, and we are always on the lookout for technically savvy students to join our team,” he continues. “The tech-savvy Hispanic members of our STEM workforce are extremely valued contributors to the success of the United States Air Force.”
People person Tom Ellis moves up fast as an engineering leader at HNTB
“Being Hispanic is all about relationships,” believes Tom Ellis, Houston office leader for HNTB (Kansas City, MO). HNTB delivers infrastructure to public and private owners and contractors.
“I was raised around a family of politicians and as a youngster, I went to a lot of political rallies. I took a lot from that, particularly working with people and wanting to help them become successful.”
Ellis was raised in the small border town of Eagle Pass, TX. “Eagle Pass is about ninety-eight percent Hispanic, so the culture is everywhere,” he reports, adding, “The idea of college was instilled in me from the time I was in kindergarten. My dad went to school with a guy who was the only civil engineer in town. I worked for him during the summer.”
As he was coming out of high school, his father encouraged him to try engineering “to see if I liked it. I loved it.” He attended Texas A&M (College Station, TX), majoring in civil engineering. He earned his degree in 1983, the first person in his family to graduate from college.
Ellis credits college with changing him from an introvert to an extrovert. “Besides the technical aspects, I learned that my true love is managing and leading people,” he says. “Most engineers aren’t that way.”
Trying hats and honing skills
During college, he worked two summers for the Texas Department of Transportation (Austin, TX). When he graduated, Ellis joined the department full time in Kerrville, TX. He learned the basics of highway design and also how to get along with people. “I had a good mentor for six years. He’s the reason I stayed for sixteen years. It was the foundation of my entire career.”
Ellis moved around to different parts of Texas, honing his technical and people skills. “My wife put up with a half-dozen moves so that I could advance in the organization,” he notes with gratitude. He became the youngest district engineer in the history of the department.
In the meantime, Ellis’ kids were getting ready for college. Financially, Ellis decided that he had to make a change. In 2000, he joined HNTB as the office leader for Austin and San Antonio.
“Being an office leader is like being an entrepreneur but within a large corporation,” says Ellis. “I make sure that we are performing well on jobs, winning projects and making money on them.”
In 2007, he left HNTB to follow an offer from another company. But in 2008, he returned to HNTB. Coming back was, Ellis says, “like I’d never left. I came back as a division operations officer in HNTB’s new design-build division for a year and then became a division sales officer. My job was to see that the business development people were winning jobs for the company.
“But that wasn’t really my strength,” Ellis explains. “You need to find out what you’re passionate about and I really wanted to be an office leader. I came to the Houston office in 2010.
“I’m focused on pursuing business,” he says. “We compete with other engineering firms and I spend a lot of time working with local and county officials and other key clients. To win jobs, you have to have a relationship with them. I like the politics of it but I also handle the project operations side, working with our project managers.
“My big passion is identifying great talent in the community and trying to hire them. The Houston office hired eight or nine people just in 2012.”
He is a member of The American Council of Engineering Companies of Houston.
“There is more to life than climbing the corporate ladder. More than anything, it’s helping people be successful,” he says. “I hope to stay here in Houston and grow the office.”
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