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Growing up with hard-working Latino parents, Cardwell shares that she rarely
saw her parents take a break. They worked as hard as they could to give her
siblings and herself a better future. This is not necessarily a negative, but in the
fast-paced, hyper-stressed world of Corporate America, taking a break is not just
recommended but necessary. As a result, she advises those entering STEM fields
to learn to enjoy the better future they are creating without feeling guilty. She also
encourages Latinas to reach back to their families.
I encourage all of my teammates, but especially women, to sit at the table and offer
their opinion no matter how under-qualified they feel.” Joining women’s networks
and organizations can help build confidence and develop your voice.
She advises Latinas entering STEM fields to find a mentor, ask questions,
and speak up. Find a network, join employee resource groups and professional
organizations.“It’s important to grow and maintain your network,” she shares. She
offers one last bit of luck, saying, “Buena suerte, amigas, todo se puede.”
Systems Engineering Manager
As a third-grader, Mariel Cisneros knew she wanted to explore space and
build rockets. She used to tell her parents that when she grew up she was
going to work for NASA. Her father would lovingly pick on her and ask if
she was going to be a tortilla maker and work with masa.
“I don’t think he realized how badly I wanted to be a scientist,” she shares.
Originally from Mexico, Cisneros immigrated to the U.S. with her family.
Ridiculed by her classmates for her inability to speak English, she found refuge in
books. Thanks to her third-grade teacher, she discovered a book about Astronomy.
That same teacher celebrated her math skills and interest in science, and her love
for all things STEM blossomed. When she was 17 years old, Cisneros was recruited
by Northrop Grumman as an intern, and she’s been with them ever since.
Cisneros currently serves as a Systems Engineering Manager, where she is
both a people leader as well as a technical lead for modeling and simulation. Though
she is only in her early 30s, she humbly shares she has “done everything from
electromagnetic compatibility to make sure space platforms operate successfully
in space, to lighting protection on next generation fighter aircraft, to electrical
subsystem design of unmanned airplanes, to finally getting to set the vision for
emerging military technology...as a first-generation for almost everything in my
family, I am very proud of all that I’ve accomplished.”
Cisneros credits much of her success to her parents, who taught her “to put
my head down and get my job done.” This advice served her well as she went
through school and pursued her dream of becoming an engineer. They also
instilled in her a strong work ethic, leading by example. Her father, a bus driver,
often worked three more jobs when she was a child while her mother worked nights
“I’ve also been very proud of my roots and the work ethic instilled in me,” she
says. “It taught me to value what I have and to be resourceful with what I do have.”
In an effort to make STEM fields more welcoming to Latinas, Cisneros serves
as the president of Northrop Grumman Women’s International Network, an
employee resource group. She also serves as the vice president of professional
development for the Society of Women Engineers Los Angeles area.
“I wish I’d been told to speak up earlier in my career,” she shares. “Because
of my culture, women aren’t encouraged to speak up as much as men...
Electronic Modules Design and Development Lead,
Space & C2 Systems
Raytheon Intelligence & Space
Over the 30 plus years that Brenda Lopez has worked with Raytheon
Technologies, she has amassed an extensive background in space
system electronics design development, assembly integration and test.
She began her career as a test engineer and grew within the company by
transitioning from test to design and leadership roles in many unclassified and
classified space programs.The catalyst for her STEM career was her father, who was
“I was always very interested in the work he did fixing motors, lights,
equipment, measuring voltage, installing electrical plugs and wiring,” Lopez shares.
“As I became older, I realized I was very good in math, especially calculus. It was
then I decided to combine my interest in electrical circuits and math and go for
At Raytheon, Lopez interacts with engineers across various disciplines. She
also works with assemblers and technicians as well as procurement and
“The best part of this is coming to work every day and interacting with every
single one of them,” she shares. “We discuss priorities, issues, and how we can help
For Lopez, these teams bring diversity in the workplace, which she considers
an integral part of the job.
Lopez also attributes much of her success to her parents for instilling values
that helped her along the way.
“They taught my siblings and I to be honest, respectful, to study hard and to
work hard,” she shares. “We didn’t grow up having everything we wanted, but we
had everything we needed. That really helped my sisters and I understand that we
need to work hard for what we want.”
They established a firm foundation, which according to Lopez, is priceless.
Her parents also taught her to never let obstacles get in her way. Instead, she
pushes through and works harder to prove that she is good at what she does. Any
disappointments that came her way drove her to work harder.
24 www.latinastyle.com LATINAStyle V ol. 27, No. 3, 2021