The trajectory of Susan Delafuente’s life and career has taken her more than 6,000 miles–from the sun-washed beaches of her native Guam–to Silicon Valley, where she has held positions with several of the largest and most respected technology companies.
How she accomplished her journey is the subject of the newest volume in the award-winning IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) eBook series. Delafuente’s An Engineer in the Making is the 13th work in the series.
Except for the first book, an overview of STEM occupations, each volume is a personally written account of how a noteworthy woman technologist became interested in technology, obtained her education and developed a productive, satisfying career.
2017 marks the fourth year of this landmark series, which has been heralded by educators and women’s organizations. In 2016 alone, the series was honored with more than a dozen publishing industry awards that recognized its overall quality and significance.
Reflecting on Susan Delafuente’s book, Leslie Martinich, chair of the IEEE-USA eBooks Subcommittee, says she is an ideal role model for girls and young women. Georgia Stelluto, IEEE-USA’s Publishing Manager, and manager/editor of IEEE-USA eBooks, adds, “Susan’s passion for technology, and for obtaining her education, should help the next generation of female engineers to see it’s possible to achieve your dreams.”
Delafuente recalls how her father encouraged her to help him with home and auto repair projects. When he moved the family from Guam to the San Francisco area, she continued to help him, while also using her budding creativity to design and build toys with her seven siblings.
“Boxes from the local grocery stores became our racing cars, tanks or airplanes,” she writes. “With my brothers, we created racing cars with wood planks for the body, tennis shoes for the brakes, and shopping cart wheels for our car tires.”
Then, tellingly, she adds, “I didn’t know it then but I was an engineer in the making.”
Delafuente became the first person in her family to attend college, working part-time and attending classes–first at a community college, where she received an Associate’s degree in aeronautical engineering-then, as an engineering student at San Jose State University. Recalling how few other young women were in her classes, she knew if she was going to succeed in engineering school, she would need to reach out to the male students.
“Luckily, I met a great group who appreciated my talent for remembering facts,” she says. “I received help in my machine class, and also joined study groups.” She also joined an academic aviation fraternity that added a great deal to her formal education; and getting involved in student activities improved her comfort level with faculty, and gave her greater confidence.
With candor, Delafuente describes several culture shocks she experienced in her first engineering job after graduation. While working as a Defense Department contractor for Lockheed Missile Space Company, she writes about the personal difficulty of working in a highly secure, closed environment. “It took a few months to get used to it, if I ever did,” she says.
The author states that another culture shock–her male coworkers’ tasteless jokes and comments about women–made her job especially challenging during the 24-hour shifts everyone had to periodically work.
The life lesson from her first work experience? “Whenever you’re applying for a job in an organization you know nothing about, or for that matter, confronting the possibility of a drastic change in your life, seek out someone who has lived it–and is willing to talk to you about it,” advises Delafuente.
Her later positions as an engineering or technical project manager for Lucent Technologies, Intel and Avistar Communications, among others, provided the author with opportunities to indulge in her enjoyment of playing on company teams. She says engaging in company sports helped her find her passion for building open communication and trusting teams–a big reason why she believes her later professional choices were ideal for her.
The author also recounts how she became involved with IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE), and her role in helping to reinvigorate the Santa Clark Valley chapter of WIE. She sums up her involvement, and the personal and professional satisfaction she received, with a quote from Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much!”
An Engineer in the Making by Susan Delafuente is available at https://shop.ieeeusa.org. The member price is $7.99; non-IEEE members can purchase it for $9.99 each.
Three more volumes in the IEEE-USA Women in Engineering eBook series will be published in 2017.