As advances across the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) continue to be pivotal in the way NSA accomplishes our mission, we are committed to empowering women to take an active role in that transformation.
What is your STEM field? What led you to this field?
Ivonne: I am first female Lead Systems Engineer for the Texas Cryptologic Center as well as the Chief of our division responsible for integration and planning.
When I was in high school, I was interested in science and math. I did not know exactly what I wanted to do with that; but I knew I did not want to be a teacher. My father was an Electrical Engineer (EE), so for him it was logical that if I loved math, EE was the path to follow. In those days, engineering was seen as a male dominated profession. However, my dad gave me the encouragement and confidence by stating there is no gender in a profession only the drive to accomplish your goals. Therefore, I took the challenge and explored the possibilities of different engineering disciplines attaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering. My professional career started in private industry but as time passed I was recruited by NSA where I have worked for twenty-four years. These two experiences offered me the depth and breadth necessary to become a SE by practice and education. With encouragement from my mom and funding from the NSA Directed Studies Scholarship, I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a Master Degree in Systems Engineering.
What do you like about the work you do at NSA?
Ivonne: FLEXIBILITY! In NSA, you are expected to do your best for the mission; however, people know me as a huge advocate of work-life balance, which is an honored and respected core value of NSA. This condition makes NSA a great place for personal growth, a selection of broad career assignments, and opportunities for meaningful contributions to national security, all while maintaining a healthy focus on your family needs.
Was there a defining STEM moment in your life?
Ivonne: There are many STEM defining moments in my life. First, in middle school when I visited the Power Generation Station where my dad worked, I was amazed of all the systems needed to produce electricity. Second, in college I learned that working for Hewlett Packard Company was the place to be if you were into technology and innovation. The opportunity to bring new products to life and present results at technical conferences opened a door to a world of opportunities in STEM. Third, moving from Puerto Rico to Maryland to work for NSA allowed me to bring a different perspective normally seen in private industry. I had the opportunity to integrate my experience in private industry into the fantastic work we do in NSA. Fourth was the joint assignment with DIA where I researched an emerging technology still in its infancy. The knowledge and NSA philosophy combined with the DIA experience allowed me to contribute further than I ever imagined.
What advice would you give someone looking to enter your field?
Ivonne: If you love math and science, go for it! I am not saying it is easy, as there are still some barriers to be conquered; however, with determination, success is only a matter of time. It is a rewarding job especially when you can see the “big picture” of mission integrated with your contributions.
How do you think we can get more women in STEM? Why is that important?
Ivonne: Although a profession should not be gender based, I think we can get more women to explore STEM careers by encouraging parents to introduce math and science to their children early and removing any fear from those fields. If you are not confident on those topics, find a tutor or mentor that will help your child progress. Watch programs that focus on how things are made hence the need for those skills. In addition, those of us in STEM careers, become a mentor, coach, or ally so we can increase the interest in STEM especially as we enjoy what we have done through our careers. Furthermore, continuing to publish more of these articles showcases diverse career paths for women in STEM.
Getting more interest in STEM careers is important as technology drives today’s world. Starting early will provide self-confidence to those interested in STEM for them to achieve goals based on hard work and education.
Learn more about jobs at NSA through our careers website.