Laurette Lahey - Boeing
Vice President of Engineering
Laurette Lahey is vice president of Engineering, Flight and Controls, for Boeing Defense Space & Security (BDS), ensuring world-class technical integrity for BDS products and services, and engineering excellence in flight sciences and controls applications.
Previously, Lahey was director of BDS Flight Engineering for tactical aircraft, tankers and transports, rotorcraft, space exploration spacecraft and satellites. She also led Boeing’s Systems Analysis and Integration team for the 767 Tanker aircraft.
Lahey began her career as an aerodynamics engineer supporting Boeing’s 737, 757 and 777 jetliners, JSTARS surveillance/radar aircraft, B-52 Stratofortress, C/KC-135 Stratotanker, and RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft.
What is your concept of mentoring and sponsorship of others for STEM careers?
Mentoring must start by engaging our youth early to inspire pursuit in STEM careers. Industry sponsorship can help educators translate theory into practical application by shaping curricula and through direct engagement in the classroom. Science and robotic competitions are outstanding means to get hands-on experience, instill excitement, and gain confidence in pursuing a STEM career.
Sustaining interest in STEM during the first two years of college is the next challenge; which can be addressed through coaching from advisors, student and industry mentors, and industry sponsorship of projects. One mutually-reinforcing form of inspiration and mentoring is to have engineering students interact with K-12 students through short-term community projects and/or tutoring. Experiential learning during those initial years combined with industry exposure is also recommended to sustain interest and passion.
What traits do senior leaders need to effectively support and advance STEM today?
Senior leaders in industry must be able to articulate a sense of urgency and be willing to partner with other industry, community, and educational leaders to support and advance STEM. These leaders must be champions for local and national STEM initiatives through personal engagement and by setting expectations for the employees they lead to get involved in STEM initiatives.
What can we do to assure more women leaders in STEM?
First, we have to develop a strong pipeline of women in STEM careers. Although this pipeline has grown significantly in some occupations, college enrollment and graduation data indicate slow if any growth for disciplines such as aerospace, civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering since I graduated from college in the mid-1980s. As noted earlier, sparking an interest in STEM careers at an early age is essential to growing this pipeline. Providing visibility to women leaders and their personal stories to aspiring STEM students and to those early in their careers is needed to instill confidence and provide role models. Most important is providing coaching and mentoring to women who have chosen STEM careers – to help them succeed in school, find balance between having a family and career, and create opportunity to learn and exercise leadership skills.
What about STEM gives you passion?
I concluded at an early age that engineers and scientists were the chief enablers of civilization, and the thought of flight and space exploration was thrilling. My personal inspiration was our nation’s journey to space – namely the Apollo and Viking missions. I was fortunate to have a father who worked closely with engineers as an architect and industrial designer and a mother who was an artist fascinated by astronomy and science, so I had plenty of encouragement to pursue my goal to be an aerospace engineer.
I recognize now I had a unique learning environment, and it is a tremendous challenge to create and sustain that spark of interest from an early age through high school and college. For those of us in STEM careers, we have an obligation to inspire the next generation to take on the new challenges of our nation and civilization.