Breathing space

A panel of women leaders helps encourage future STEM careers

Julie Montoya, right, answers questions about her space engineering career at an event for young women interested in STEM.

Julie Montoya is the daughter of a math teacher. As a student, she was captain of her math team. So it's no surprise that she turned out to be an engineer.

Yet on her first day of work, "I hid in the bathroom, called my dad and cried," she said. It was the imposter syndrome that has particularly afflicted women in engineering, a field historically dominated by men.

Nobody would take her for an imposter today. Montoya is a lead sensors analyst for Raytheon’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, a sophisticated, satellite-born technology that takes crystal-clear images of the Earth from space. And she is doing what she can to bring more women into the field and make sure they don't suffer from a sense that they don't belong.

Montoya and other women leaders from Raytheon came together to talk with young women from the STEM-encouraging SCI-Fest and FIRST Robotics programs about how they, too, can make the next great breakthrough in space.

“Seeing the women engineers who were in my place not too long ago motivated me to continue on this path,” said Eva Danesh, a FIRST Robotics participant who also attended a Raytheon panel at last year’s event. “If they can do it, I can too.”

Danesh was one of 180 girls who attended this year’s panel, which included four women from the Raytheon Space Systems team and two members of the United States Air Force.

Montoya said it was after watching the 1995 movie adaptation of Apollo 13 that she narrowed her focus to a career in space.

“I remember the scene where they had to build a carbon dioxide filter,” Montoya said. “They had to build something on Earth that saved lives in space. There aren’t higher stakes than that.”

During the question and answer portion of the panel, a young girl in the audience stood to ask the panel what their first days of work were like. Montoya told the crying in the bathroom story—and explained how she got through it.

“On that day I learned to take a deep breath, go back to math and remember that I always knew how to solve equations," she said. "In the end, it’s nothing but equations.”

Sarah Carroll, operations lead for Raytheon Space Systems, responded to a question about the importance of taking risks by sharing her own experiences. Last year, Carroll moved from engineering to business development to support a proposal for a space-based sensor called Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared, or Next Gen OPIR.  

 “I walked into a room filled with people who had more experience than me and had to lead them,” she said. “I was nervous about whether or not I could handle this new role.”

Carroll said she wouldn’t have been on the panel that day if she hadn’t fought for her place on that team. She knew she could do the work—and it paid off when Raytheon was selected to design the payload for Next Gen OPIR.

“When it comes to space, you might only get one shot,” said Sarah Carroll. “But that one shot can save the world. Not everyone can say that.”

Published On: 04/24/2019
Last Updated: 04/24/2019