Finding La Familia
By José Castellón, as told to Joseph Cohen
When asked to describe myself, I say I'm a systems engineer with a deep passion for STEM outreach and diversity, equity and inclusion. It's this passion that drives me to want to build a diverse workforce, which is central to my current role as an engineering director for Technical Development.
I was born and raised in Culver City, California, to parents of Puerto Rican and Salvadoran heritage. While attending college at California State University, Northridge, I interned for three consecutive summers at Northrop Grumman (TRW, at the time) and joined the company full-time in 1985.
In my early career, I didn't take advantage of opportunities to engage with the Hispanic community at work, but things began to change in 2002. The chair of the Space Park, California, Adelante chapter — our Hispanic and Latinx Employee Resource Group (ERG) — encouraged me to get more involved. At first, I didn't understand the benefits of joining an ERG, but I agreed to give it a try. What followed was a revelation.
Engaging with Adelante introduced me to colleagues who were bringing their culture to work in ways I hadn't realized was possible. I had been at the company for 20 years, and it was only then that I realized I wasn't embracing that part of myself.
Connecting with my heritage also helped me discover my passion for STEM outreach.
In 2003, I became a coach for our Northrop Grumman team at the Great Minds in STEM (GMiS) College Bowl. After a disappointing loss, I re-wrote our team's strategy, and we won for our first time ever the following year. Since then, our teams have become the winningest in the event's history, and I am now on the GMiS board of directors and have coordinated more than 30 GMiS programs.
I also led the development of the Northrop Grumman High School Innovation Challenge, which ran for ten years and taught students the engineering design process lifecycle with our engineers through competitions. Nearly 30 schools across multiple states adopted it, inspiring many students to pursue careers in STEM.
Through these engagements, I have been able to see countless individuals from underserved communities find careers and grow into leaders who are now guiding the next generation.
In 2010, the opportunity arose to stand up the enterprise One Adelante ERG by connecting many local chapters into the first enterprise-wide, all-volunteer ERG. I was asked to help stand up it up and serve as its first chair, an honor that, to me, marked how much I had changed from that first conversation with the Space Park Adelante chair.
It was a chance to start the chapter with a theme capturing the feeling I rediscovered years before. We chose the theme of la familia, which represents closeness, pride and unity in the Hispanic and Latinx communities. One Adelante helped me rediscover la familia in the community around me and within myself.
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