STEM Professional of the week

Maria Elena Cardwell      
The Boeing Company

Maria Elena Cardwell
The Boeing Company
November 19-26, 2012

Ms. Maria Elena Cardwell is a woman of uncommon resilience. Today, because of her perseverance and unique innovation skills, she is one of three structural engineers responsible for new empennage (horizontal stabilizer and vertical fin) designs on future Boeing airplanes. Maria works side by side with industry leading experts to create the airplanes of tomorrow and change the future of commercial aviation.

Maria was born in El Paso, Texas to parents who left Mexico with only an elementary school education to pursue a better life for their family. Once in the United States, Maria’s parents went back to school and obtained their associates degrees and in doing so, instilled in their children a strong belief in education.

As an excellent student, in her high school years she took advantage of a summer Minority Engineering Program at the Colorado School of Mines and it was during this summer that she decided to become an engineer. Pursuing her dream, she enrolled at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in the fall of 1996.

Maria was thriving at UTEP, enjoying the challenge of balancing a college education and a full-time job. She was involved in student organizations like SHPE and MAES, had an internship with Nortel and attended her first HENAAC conference in 1997. However, her life was turned upside down by a drunk driver. This serious car accident marked the beginning of several unfortunate events in Maria’s life that included the death of her grandparents and a serious personal illness. Soon, financial constraints had Maria working two or three jobs to pay for her education.

Despite the trials in her life Maria showed an uncommon valor and did not give up her dream of graduating from college. On May 7, 2005, nine years after starting her quest, Maria became the first person in her family to graduate from college with her B.S. degree in Metallurgical and Material Science Engineering.

Upon her graduation from UTEP, she joined The Boeing Company where in an amazingly short period of time on the job, was able to assume responsibility as a manufacturing engineer on the 747 program. Maria led design and manufacturing improvement efforts in the 747 factory that resulted in supplier quality changes eliminating variations in the assembly process. Her drive for excellence, which her peers describe as “contagious”, earned her a HENAAC Luminary honor in 2007 after only two years with the company.

In 2010, Maria was selected to work on a one year special assignment promoting Engineering Technical Excellence initiatives across Boeing Commercial Airplanes and reporting directly to the VP of Engineering Chief of Staff. Maria excelled in this capacity, effectively working with Boeing’s most senior engineering leaders on issues related to all commercial airplane programs.

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