An engineer in mind and spirit
Unable to read until age 16, Kristy Mandigo overcame disabilities to build a stellar career
Kristy Mandigo became an engineer against all the odds.
Born with partial paralysis, portions of her brain missing and spastic cerebral palsy, and later diagnosed with epilepsy, Mandigo wasn’t expected to graduate from elementary school and didn’t learn how to read until she was sixteen.
"School district officials and doctors told my parents that, best case, I would make it through sixth grade,” she said. “My parents sat me down and told me I had a choice--I could be what I wanted to be or I could let the doctors decide what I was going to be."
Yet she graduated from high school, and earned an undergraduate degree in engineering and a master’s degree in business and technology. She began working for Raytheon in 2003 and is now a top aerospace engineer and manager at the company’s Space and Airborne Systems business, working on the Next Generation Jammer, an innovative airborne electronic attack and jamming technology. The mother of two young boys, Mandigo is also an advocate for others with disabilities.
Seven years ago, Mandigo’s anti-epileptic medication was switched without notice, causing multiple breakthrough grand mal seizures that eroded some of her hard-fought independence. She used that experience to advocate for others, testifying in April before the state of California Assembly Health Committee in support of a bill that would require a patient to be notified by the health plan or insurer if there were changes to their medication.
“Before the switch, I drove 50 miles to work on L.A. freeways,” she told the committee. “Now I can’t drive. I can’t go to the movies, sporting events, or concerts. Even taking my kids outside can be hard, and has to be calculated.”
That impassioned testimony was credited with swaying a number of lawmakers, and the bill was passed.
Like Mandigo, thousands of Raytheon’s 61,000 employees have disabilities. Raytheon has a strong commitment to recruiting, hiring and retaining disabled employees, including disabled veterans. The American Association of People with Disabilities and the U.S. Business Leadership Network recently recognized Raytheon among its 2016 Disability Equality Index Best Places to Work.
Leaders of Raytheon’s disabilities employee resource group, Raytheon Alliance for Diverse Abilities, including Mandigo, accepted the award at the USBLN annual conference in September. Raytheon was one of the first companies in its industry to establish a strong portfolio of employee resource groups, which help foster an inclusive culture and drive growth and innovation.
“I joined Raytheon's disabilities ERG, now the Raytheon Alliance for Diverse Abilities, in 2014, and became a leadership member almost immediately,” Mandigo said. “I have at least one employee with a disability come to me for advice every week.”
Mandigo believes the challenges posed by her disabilities make her a better engineer, as she has had to use problem-solving and process improvement techniques to perform the quotidian tasks most people take for granted.
That mode of thinking makes Mandigo a natural at troubleshooting and finding ways to make continuous process improvements in support of Raytheon’s programs. “I have basically been using Six Sigma processes since I was a kid to perform everyday tasks like opening doors.”
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