In the career of Lockheed Martin's Stephanie C. Hill, we can discern the sweep of history. A computer engineer whose technology exploits contributed materially to the strategic power of U.S. military arms. At a time when America's military reach was being strenuously contested Hill also was climbing the corporate mountain, to levels that would not have been believed possible in her parents' generation.
Consider: John Slaughter, the first Black Engineer of the Year in 1987, graduated from high school in 1952, two years before the Supreme Court ruled that de jure segregation in his hometown, Topeka, Kan., violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. The young John Slaughter persisted in taking college-prep courses despite his counselors' attempts to fit him into a trade preparatory curriculum.
On the job after earning his engineering degree at Kansas State University, Slaughter met disbelief when he showed up prepared for leadership roles, an experience common for African-American college graduates moving into jobs in American business and industry during the still not-very-open post-Second World War society shaken to its foundations by the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
Shirley Jackson, the 2001 Black Engineer of the Year, met still greater disbelief when she enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The story of the professor so deeply disturbed at seeing Jackson in a seat he thought reserved for white males only that he told her to "learn a trade" reverberated through the years as young African-American women (and men) pursued their own dreams, making their way into the engineering profession at levels once denied to the children of the Great Migration.
Hill's own father, Army veteran Harry Cole, enrolled at the University of Maryland School of Law following his wartime service, the admissions doors opened by the very first lawsuit Thurgood Marshall ever filed after his own graduation from Howard Law School and admission to the Maryland State Bar. As a lawyer, Cole began making history on his own, first becoming Maryland's first-ever Black state senator in 1954 and, in 1977, the first Black judge appointed to the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state.
Entering the Fray
Stephanie Hill, Judge Cole's younger daughter, joined Lockheed Martin in 1987, the same year Dr. Slaughter won honors as Black Engineer of the Year, beginning the climb that would lead to her own high achievements.
“My parents always taught me to go for it; do the best you can do in anything and everything you do. I certainly had aspirations, but I really didn’t know I would be in the engineering field, which is one of the reasons I’m passionate about STEM. I thought, early in life, that I wanted to be a psychiatrist because I wanted to help people. It wasn’t until college, after talking to people at the career center and taking a class in COBOL programming, that I knew engineering even existed,” Hill said.
“I call myself an accidental engineer because when I started college, I majored in economics to get my accounting degree and I took a class in COBOL programming. For the longest time, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to major in economics or switch to computer science because with every elective, I took more and more of computer science. I fell in love with it. It was so much fun! Then in my junior year I had to declare. So I decided it was going to be both.”
Hill, a double-major graduate of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County—computer engineering and economics—showed early on that she was a comer, leading a team that developed the software that directed cruise missiles to targets with such exactitude that amazed TV news viewers could watch one veer around a hotel full of journalists to reach its intended Baghdad landing place during the first Gulf War. In 1993, Hill won recognition as Most Promising Engineer at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards, and from there, she continued her steady climb, taking on ever-bigger technology challenges, in ever-bigger career postings.
In 1994 Hill, then a systems engineer, dug deeply into the Navy's Sea Sparrow missile program, working to maintain its multiple warfare capabilities while making sure it would not turn and target "friendly" naval units. Among other tasks, Hill also performed trade studies to identify hardware platforms to upgrade missile launch control unit equipment, and developed the software and interface requirements for the vertical launch system extant on Aegis missile cruisers.
The next year, Hill moved up again, to assignment as an integrated product team leader, developing a broader grasp of the complexities of missile launch systems. Then, in 1999, Hill became a software engineering manager, responsible for technical excellence for all software products coming out of her Central Maryland facility.
“My family didn’t know any engineers, so I didn’t have a concept of what an engineer did and how much you could contribute in that kind of role. It wasn’t a natural option as it is for some young people today, but when I think of the things I’ve had the opportunity to work on, things that have benefited the military and the civilian world, it’s amazing! I never dreamed I’d have the kind of opportunities that Lockheed Martin has provided me,” Hill said.
“Not knowing what engineering was, I could’ve been hesitant to really try it. But fortunately my parents had always instilled in me, ‘Hey, you can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And I did.”
Standing where few went before
There, at the end of the 20th century, Hill stood where few African Americans, men or women, could have imagined standing during the years her father's generation was struggling to open the doors of equal opportunity in the American workplace. Stephanie Hill, whose parents watched the Tuskegee Airmen shatter all the stereotypes about Blacks' ability to master high technology, now was leading teams developing products critical to America's defense.
Elijah McCoy, a Scottish-trained engineer who returned to the United States after the Civil War only to learn the best work he could find was as a stoker on steam engines, would have been astounded. His petroleum-based lubricating system propelled American industry to unprecedented heights as the 19th century ended and the 20th began, but the uncomfortable truth is that McCoy had to license his innovations to other companies because the banks denied him the funding required to market his products on his own.
A new-generation leader
Now Stephanie Hill was winning promotions on the merits of her accomplishments, her skill at managing the work of others, regardless of race, with profit-and-loss responsibility for a $4 billion product line.
By 2008, Hill had reached vice-presidential levels, first leading the corporate internal audit unit, then in 2012 rising to vice president and general manager for information systems and global solutions-civil, reporting to another Black Engineer of the Year, Linda Gooden, who described Hill as "a true leader throughout our corporation, industry and community," adding that, "Stephanie's drive for excellence, career achievements and dedicated advocacy for STEM education inspire both employees and the workforce of tomorrow to reach new heights."
Noting that in 2012 Hill won a Career Achievement Award at the Women of Color Technology Awards, Gooden said, "we are proud that she is being recognized for the profound impact that has made for so many."
Today, Hill leads an organization with some 10,000 employees in the United States and eight other countries. Now working in the "civil" side of the world's biggest defense contractor, Hill oversees teams that work to provide solutions to the FBI, including advanced biometric scanning systems that can identify suspects by their palm prints, and one of her team's strongest contributions came in their success winning authorization for Lockheed's SolaS Cloud Solution, a software set that allows government contractors to operate within a secure "cloud computing" environment under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program.
Hill's teams also support the Federal Aviation Administration to guarantee air safety for global travelers; support the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's programs to explore space and perform scientific research; help manage claims processing and disability examinations for millions of U.S. military veterans; and address energy challenges by implementing energy efficiency programs.
The first 14 Years
“There were some very pivotal things in the first 14 years of my career that kind of me put me on the career path I am on today,” she notes. “I spent years doing hardcore engineering—writing code, testing software, writing requirements for systems. I spent time in the trenches, getting my hands dirty; understanding how to do engineering and how to solve problems with technology. I think that is so important, because I hear sometimes people entering the workforce wanting to move quickly and dramatically into leadership. That time I spent just doing the work of engineering enabled me to be a leader of engineering.”
Hill said as head of an integrated product team (IPT) she was the technical leader of a multidisciplinary engineering team.
“We had all kind of engineers—systems, software, test, electrical, mechanical, and reliability—focused on developing a single product. In that role, I learned the importance making sure that your team understands that you value the expertise they bring. It gave me a broader perspective than being an individual contributor—heads down.”
In 2001, at the new century's dawn, Hill was named director of quality and mission success. She soon rose through steps to deputy vice president, then director of technical operations in 2004. John Slaughter, once denied a posting because a hiring officer felt that his white co-workers would be uncomfortable reporting to a Black man in management, might have been heard somewhere chuckling.
Hill wasn't comfortable taking the mission assurance role, she pointed out, “But I had a very good mentor who said, ‘No, you need to do this role, take it.’ So I took it. I later realized that the job I really didn’t think I wanted prepared me the most for the one I have today. It was many years ago, but it set the stage. It was a good role because I got to see a broader part of the entire organization. As the IPT lead, I was still primarily in engineering but in the mission success role I got to see the whole business.
“So getting out my comfort zone, broadening my technical expertise and getting my hands dirty were very important in the first 14 years of my career.
Opening ways for others
In her spare time, Hill works to inspire young people to pursue their own dreams and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She's established a program within her business unit to encourage volunteering and mentorship with local K-12 students, and she sits as a board member of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.
In a letter to the BEYA selection panel, Lockheed Martin's president and CEO noted that, "The mark of a great leader is the ability to develop other leaders, and this is an area where Stephanie excels. She genuinely invests her time in mentoring high-potential employees, and she is passionate about promoting STEM education.
"Stephanie Hill's contributions to her company, her community and her nation (makes) her a worthy recipient of this honor. It's a privilege to present her recommendation."
In other words, Stephanie Hill is the total package. 'Nuff said.