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Diamonds, Hackers and Math: Raytheon's Volunteers Put Knowledge Into Action

Raytheon is encouraging everyone to thank a volunteer on Twitter

To mark National Volunteer Week from April 6-12, Raytheon profiles five volunteers who are going the extra mile to build America’s future.

Boston-area sixth grade students sat rapt at the Museum of Science’s ‘Nano Days’ as Stephanie Silberstein touched a mysterious, 3-inch disk to an ice cube. The students gasped as the disk sliced easily into the ice.

The disc was actually a wafer of pure diamond, one of the most efficient substances at transferring heat – in this case, from the student’s fingers to the ice cube. Raytheon grows diamonds as part of its pioneering gallium nitride technology for radars, jammers and other electronics.

Silberstein, a materials engineer in Andover, Mass. volunteers regularly at the museum. She’s one of hundreds of Raytheon employees who give their time to inspire the next generation, support armed service members and help their communities in other ways. During the past three years alone, Raytheon employees have contributed more than half a million hours of their time to these volunteer efforts.

Silberstein said her work at the Museum of Science is aimed at drawing youngsters into science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) careers.

“We try to make it fun for the kids,” Silberstein said. During her presentations she also lets kids experiment with a thermal camera, which displays their faces in wild colors based on the different temperatures of their cheeks, ears, nose and other features.

Working to STEM the tides … literally
After 24 years, Hal Abel of Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Ariz. is an expert on surface engineering issues such as finishes, adhesives, sealants and corrosion prevention. All are vital to the performance of defense systems.

Abel’s son Nate – soon to be a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) – was the catalyst behind Abel’s volunteering commitment. The USMMA trains officers and engineers for the U.S. merchant marine fleet. With 10,000 flagged vessels that must be staffed with American citizens, the need is great. So when Nate was accepted to the Academy, Abel and his wife Melanie were thrilled to help step up recruiting efforts in Arizona.

“We try to get in front of high school juniors just starting to consider their college options. Most of them have no idea of what a great range of careers the Academy prepares them for, or that virtually 100 percent of graduates have a job right out of school,” Abel said.

For the Abels, volunteering is a weekly activity. In addition to leading the merchant marine academy’s Arizona Parents Association, Hal Abel visits schools, runs fundraising programs and attends Academy Day recruiting events in local congressional offices. But it’s his wife Melanie’s contribution that is more appreciated by the academy’s midshipmen: she bakes 25-50 dozen cookies that ship out to them every Saturday.

Is it about the math … or the tchotchkes?
Martin Chiu’s day job is serious business. As a principal systems engineer for Satellite Communications in Marlborough, Mass., his work allows little room for levity:  Raytheon’s military satellite operations must be 100 percent functional, 100 percent of the time.

Raytheon volunteer Martin Chiu (far right) poses with competitors at the MATHCOUNTS math bee during the 2014 Massachusetts state finals at Wentworth Institute of Technology

But just as serious, Chiu says, is the need to groom future engineering talent. “We can’t outsource our satellite development to China or India. We need American engineers to design and build these systems.”

However, when Chiu puts on his volunteer hat and goes to work with school children, suddenly it’s all fun and games. The Raytheon lead for the MATHCOUNTS® competition in Massachusetts and other STEM outreach efforts, Chiu says the role gives him more room for clowning around. And he’ll do whatever it takes to capture the students’ interest, from teaching yo-yo tricks to show-and-tell with Raytheon’s XOS 2 robotic exoskeleton.

The approach pays off. Chiu warmly recalls a student that approached him at a recent MATHCOUNTS championship event, saying “You were my math coach three years ago! I still have the Raytheon yo-yo!”“Raytheon’s commitment to volunteer efforts makes a big difference,” says Chiu.

Making moms into advocates
For Beth Cavey, manager of planning and scheduling at Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business in Indianapolis, it’s not about the yo-yos. Her target is elementary school children, and her preferred tactic is exploding foam, made from common kitchen ingredients: baking soda and vinegar, yeast, dishwashing liquid and food coloring.

“We have to give children – and also their parents – the idea of engineering as a fascinating journey, not just sitting at a drawing board in a factory,” Cavey says, noting how engineers work in companies that span the spectrum. “I love it when a Mom or Dad realizes that engineering is actually a creative field – and that you don’t have to be a genius to succeed at it.”

As in her job at Raytheon, Cavey’s commitment to volunteering includes plenty of organizing. Serving as a volunteer the past three years, her projects include running Science Days at elementary schools and staffing the Raytheon “big tent” at county fairs and the annual Indianapolis Air Show.

Along the way she has become expert at drawing crowds to the Raytheon booth at high-traffic events, even earning coverage on Indianapolis TV. Apparently, nothing does the trick quite like a few foam explosions.

The excitement of fighting cyber attacks
It was the weekend of the regional finals of the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition at Johns Hopkins University. Teams from eight colleges were feverishly at work, each tasked with setting up and maintaining data communications during a crisis. To make things even more challenging, a team of hackers was working hard to upend whatever progress the teams might make.

Raytheon software engineer Nathan Wray of Intelligence, Information and Systems in State College, Pa. was loving every minute of it. 

Teams of hackers and defenders square off at last year's cyber defense competition.

A year ago, Wray was a member of the Captiol College team. This year he was helping run the event, assigning tasks to the student teams and scoring them on their performance.

“Every time I have been involved in the competition it’s been fun and rewarding. But as a student of course you go through a much fuller range of emotions,” Wray said.

Raytheon actually recruited Wray through the competition. He now develops administrative systems for client software projects.

“For me, it’s really exciting to see how Raytheon puts their values into practice,” Wray said. 

Published: 04/03/2014

Last Updated: 03/09/2015

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