Aerospace engineer is also devoted to diversifying the workforce
By Debra Werner|June 2020
Sylvie DeLaHunt, 28; supervisor, Future Weapon Concepts and Algorithms Section at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
Since she had a natural talent for math and science, Sylvie DeLaHunt’s elementary and middle school teachers in suburban Washington, D.C., encouraged her to become an engineer. DeLaHunt warmed to the idea of a career like that of her father, who oversees attitude determination and control systems for spacecraft at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. She liked the idea of proving herself in a male-dominated field. DeLaHunt earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she was a founding officer of the Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics student organization. From college, DeLaHunt went directly to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory to design subsystems and algorithms that control the motion of aerospace vehicles.
Addressing missile threats
I perform guidance, navigation and control trade studies, trajectory optimization, and modeling and simulation to help program managers understand the capabilities of defensive weapons and how design decisions may influence performance. The air and missile defense work performed by APL with our government and industry peers is critical for protecting our nation and allied forces from air and missile attack. We develop defensive weapons to counter or defeat new and emerging threats posed by long-range ballistic and cruise missiles. Additionally, we seek to counter advanced future challenges posed by hypersonic threats, coordinated raids of missiles, autonomous vehicles and nonkinetic kill mechanisms.
Diversity and inclusion
In addition to my day job, I promote diversity and inclusion at APL and in the broader aerospace community. At APL, I am president of our Society of Women Engineers affinity group. Through the AIAA Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, I collaborate with other AIAA members to enhance the representation of women and people of different races and ethnicities in the professional society. Additionally, I advocate for adapting collegiate engineering programs to promote the inclusion and success of all students through presentations at local universities and women in STEM conferences.
Space in 2050
To improve recruitment and retention of a diverse engineering student body, the aerospace community must evaluate whether elements we often consider to be “inherent” to traditional engineering programs are truly necessary. Implicit biases, alienating cultures and unclear grading policies reinforce negative stereotypes and continue to discourage today’s female and minority students. Aerospace academic programs must tackle the institutional barriers to success and send an inclusive message about who makes a good engineering student. At the professional level, I expect 2050 will see aerospace companies focused not only on bringing together teams with diverse backgrounds, experiences and thought, but also on empowering members to bring their whole selves to the profession. Inclusion enables us to embrace the creative tension that stems from diverse teams, maximizing creativity and innovation.