One-on-One with Mentor Sharon ONeal

March 26, 2018

Sharon ONeal retired as Software Engineering Center director at Raytheon Missile Systems in 2017. During her 32 years with the company, she held a wide range of positions, often leading programs worth upward of $200 million. Among her many career successes was becoming the first female senior fellow in Raytheon Missile Systems.

The first in her family to obtain a college degree, ONeal earned her BS in computer science from California State University, Northridge in 1984, and her MS in computer engineering from the University of Southern California in 1991.

This is her second year as a mentor for the Engineering Design Program.

What inspired you to become a mentor in the first place?

I love working with the next generation of engineers and helping launch them into rewarding and exciting careers in engineering.

How have you benefited from the experience of being a mentor?

Today’s engineering students are graduating with fantastic skills in the latest technologies and tools. Consequently, being a mentor for ENGR 498 becomes a bi-directional mentoring experience. I am able to share more than 34 years of experience and lessons learned with very diverse engineering students, and in return I learn about some of the latest advances made in engineering technologies.

How does being on a mentored design team help students in the professional world?

We are able to share real-world experiences with the students. I have been able to provide career guidance and coaching to several students over the two years I have been a mentor, and it is extremely rewarding to see our students launch their careers.

What do you enjoy about working with the students?

I have been absolutely blown away by the creativity and innovative thinking of some of my students and teams. They are not afraid to take on and develop complex design solutions and diligently work through the many challenges they face in prototyping, integration and testing.

What advice would you offer to others considering mentoring a design team?

Share your experiences, but at the same time, invite new experiences that you will encounter working with the students — because you will surely learn about new methodologies, tools and technologies along the way. Be open-minded and give your students free rein to explore and innovate in their own unique ways.

How do employers benefit when they hire students who have been on a mentored senior design team?

They get to see firsthand what capabilities the students have. I had more than 10 students last year who were hired by their sponsoring company. That is quite amazing.

Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to learn.

I’m very dedicated to conducting STEM outreach for school-age children in the Southern Arizona community. Fifteen years ago, I founded the Math Science and Technology Funfest in Tucson, which unites hundreds of scientists and engineers and provides hands-on and informational activities for kids. Since its inception in March 2003, more than 75,000 school-age children from all socio-economic backgrounds have benefited from this event, which is now known as AZ STEM.

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