Embracing Duality

One Employee Shares Her Experience Balancing Engineering with Life as a Reservist  

By Brandon Hartman

woman of color smiling

In Northrop Grumman Systems Engineer Tejas’ closet, two sides stand out: bright athleisure and clothes for work on one side, and fatigues and combat boots on the other.

Born and raised in Maryland — where, over 30 years ago, her parents immigrated to pursue master’s degrees — Tejas grew up in a family of academics and was encouraged to pursue STEM. When five-year-old Tejas told her parents she would join the U.S. Army one day, it was seen as nothing but a child’s fantasy.

“I don’t often see a lot of people in uniform who look like me,” said Tejas, who as an avid reader from the age of five, found herself enamored by stories of heroes and warriors from classical and modern history. “I was never very tough as a kid. I think I saw in the Army a path to forge a stronger version of myself.”

Civilian Career Meets Military Service

Tejas once told herself she’d never become an engineer since both of her parents were. However, chemistry and math came naturally to her, and engineering was not only an undeniably great fit, but a source of joy.

Upon graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in materials science engineering, she started a job in underwater electromagnetics, working on naval submarines. After a few years, she began to feel stuck in her position.

“I felt like there was something missing,” said Tejas. “I reached a point where I knew I would totally regret not attempting to join the Army after wanting to for so long. It was different from anything I knew, so I was a bit scared. It was a do or don’t moment, and in the spring of 2018, I decided ‘Okay, time to do it.’”

Tejas commissioned through the Army’s Officer Candidate School, a rigorous 12-week course in Fort Benning, Georgia, following 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

The company has been very accommodating of my military leave and still offers me the mobility for growth.”

— Tejas, Systems Engineer

“Basic training was a total 180, from having coworkers in an office to being yelled at for things like my sheets not being folded four inches below my pillow,” said Tejas with a laugh. “It was such a different experience.”

The training, totaling nearly six months, was often isolating for Tejas, as both a person of color and a woman. Tejas said things were never unbearable, but there were some difficult moments. “I’d think about how millions of people had done it before me, so I could too,” she said. “Plus, everyone goes through their own crucibles. My mom is a brilliant electrical engineer who worked in STEM for over 30 years as an Indian-American woman; she faced professional challenges I’ll never have to.”

Prior to basic training and joining the U.S. Army Reserves, Tejas had accepted a position with Northrop Grumman in San Diego, working on airborne signals intelligence systems; the company agreed to hold her job while she completed training.

“I was excited to take big steps in both my civilian and military career without missing out on either,” said Tejas.

Best of Both Worlds

Today, Tejas has spent four years as a Reservist and is now a systems engineer supporting the ESPASat-L program in Dulles, Virginia, working on satellites that provide a modular, cost-effective path into space. For a few days each month, she is an operations officer in an expeditionary signal battalion, planning and executing readiness missions with her Army unit.

“The company has been very accommodating of my military leave and still offers me the mobility for growth,” said Tejas. She is also currently pursuing her master’s degree from John Hopkins University through Northrop Grumman’s EdAssist. “I’m blessed to have this kind of duality,” said Tejas. “Sometimes, when I’m behind a desk, I’ll miss the weight of my uniform. I’m honored to get to work with my awesome teammates at Northrop Grumman and then, each month, be in the field alongside soldiers, some who are starting their journeys and others who’ve had experiences I can’t even fathom… It fulfills something in me.”

woman in blue clean suit

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