Maria Campelo is a director of systems engineering at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. But she almost wasn’t.
“I almost quit engineering in college because the first couple of classes were so hard,” she told a group of about 300 high school students in a recent virtual panel on Hispanic representation in science, technology, engineering and math. “But before you do, reach out to your support network – reach out to me – and stick with it. That resilience and sticking with it is something that’s needed in the workforce.”
Campelo was among several Raytheon Technologies employees who shared their personal stories and career paths with the students, both in observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month and in support of Raytheon Technologies’ partnership with the nonprofit NAF, formerly the National Academy Foundation. The goal: to close the racial gap in STEM fields; Hispanics make up about 20 percent of the U.S. population, but just 7 percent of those who work in science, technology, engineering and math, according to the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
The students represented NAF’s Academies of Engineering, a network of career-focused programs that operate within mostly inner-city public high schools across the United States. There are 620 NAF academies in 34 states; they serve 112,000 students, 72 percent of whom identify as Black and/or Hispanic.
The panelists, often toggling seamlessly from English to Spanish and back, had plenty of advice and encouragement for the students.
Juan Zepeda, a software engineer and technical lead at RI&S, admitted that math and science weren’t his strengths in school.
“But I loved computers. I went into computer science at a community college. It wasn’t easy. But I didn’t give up. Hard work and late nights. I was a dishwasher, my dad was a gardener, and my mom was a housekeeper. Who would have thought – now I’m an engineer, building systems in flight. Hard work pays off. Si vale la pena.”
Raytheon Technologies' support of NAF began in early 2019, when United Technologies Corp. announced its commitment to expand Academies of Engineering to under-resourced public high schools in Puerto Rico, south Florida, and across the U.S. Raytheon Technologies CEO Greg Hayes recently doubled the company’s support of NAF to accelerate this expansion and the valuable opportunities its academies provide.
“Our goal is to reach all of the major cities where we have operations around this country to provide for opportunities for students to learn,” Hayes said.
Asked what advice they’d give their younger selves, here’s what the panelists said:
Zepeda: “The present doesn't last forever. Keep pushing through. The future is always brighter if you put in the work. It's not a straight line.”
Campelo: “My family made a lot of sacrifices to come here so that I would have the opportunities that I’ve been able to have, so I would tell myself to go for them even more. Para atras ni para coger impulso – keep going and never look back. If I can do it, you can, too.”
Juan Bahena, mechanical engineer at RI&S: “For some of you, it’s time for college applications. I only applied to one school but I would tell myself to apply to multiple schools. Have more confidence, and you'd be surprised to see what comes out of it.”
Jasmine Guerrero, multi-discipline engineer at RI&S: “Siempre échale ganas. Never give up, and don’t let anything stop you. Spread your wings. It’s hard to be away from família but sometimes it’s necessary.”
In a survey conducted after the panel, about 97 percent of the students said they wanted to learn more about careers in engineering.
“Now I just want to be an engineer even more,” said Marcos, a student at Hialeah Gardens Senior High School in Miami. “Thank you very much for those inspirational messages!”
The Society of Hispanic Professionals has named Raytheon Technologies its STAR Company of the Year for its efforts to advance Hispanics in STEM careers. Raytheon Technologies’ vice president of aerospace technology, Juan Manuel de Bedout, accepted the award on behalf of the company.
“I’ve been a passionate supporter of diversity throughout my career, with a special place in my heart for the Hispanic community,” de Bedout said. “And SHPE has always been an organization I’ve admired for the impact they have in helping to develop the next generation of Hispanic engineers. SHPE is an essential partner to companies like ours and that makes this award ever more so special for us.”