GET EMAIL UPDATES FROM POWERTOFLY
By signing up you accept the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy
BROWSE CATEGORIES
GET EMAIL UPDATES FROM POWERTOFLY
Collins Aerospace

When stargazing turns to trailblazing

Below is an article originally published on March 22, 2021 on Collins Aerospace. Go to Collins Aerospace's company page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

Inspired by aviators and astronauts, Rhonda Walthall turned an early love of airplanes into a successful career as an engineer (and Collins Technical Fellow). Here's what she's learned along the way as a woman working in aerospace.

If Neil Armstrong had looked out the window of his farmhouse in Lebanon, Ohio in the late 1970s, he might have seen a teenaged, future aerospace engineer named Rhonda Walthall waving as she went by. Walthall's family lived close, and she always hoped to catch a glimpse of the famous astronaut.

"Growing up, I loved everything about airplanes and space," said Walthall, now a Collins Aerospace Technical Fellow and an industry leader in advancing Integrated Aircraft Health Management technologies. "I always did well in science and math but had no exposure to engineering. Back then, there were no girls allowed in shop class – we had to take home economics. I refused to take typing or shorthand, because I wanted to get away from all the stereotypes. I wanted something different, and I knew I'd have to find it for myself."

While she never actually saw Armstrong, Walthall was inspired to follow his footsteps to his alma mater, Purdue University. It was there, while earning her degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering that she met other young women exploring careers in science. Walthall's less-than-stellar eyesight dashed her dream of becoming an astronaut, but a dream to become an aerospace engineer took its place.

"As much as I loved aviation, I didn't fly on a plane until my junior year," she recalled with a laugh. "In those days, some planes had rows of seats that faced one another. I flew the entire way from Indianapolis to Hartford – to my first Society of Women Engineers conference of all things – facing backwards! I had never flown before, so I didn't know the difference."

Walthall spent very little time looking back after that. Her first job out of college was with McDonnell Douglas, where she was a principal flight test engineer for the company's C-17 program and the first civilian woman to fly on the aircraft. She also worked as a power plant engineer for Northwest Airlines before arriving at Collins 18 years ago and working her way up to her current position. In addition to her day job working in predictive analytic solutions for aircraft, she's an industry technical advisor for Purdue and serves in leadership roles for SAE International and the Prognostics and Health Management Society.

She is also invested in the futures of current and aspiring engineers. As an advocate for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, Walthall mentors early-to-mid career engineers at Collins, hosts "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day" events for the Collins Charlotte office and works with other organizations, such as FIRST's Project Scientist, with a mission to inspire girls to stay the course in STEM.

"I want the next generation to feel more comfortable seeking support for their careers than I was," she explained. "Mentors, whether they are older, younger, male, female, in or outside your company, above or below you in the organization, are more objective than your friends and family. They can help you see that you're ready for the next thing, even if you're not so sure."

She makes a distinction between having a mentor – someone you reach out to and ask for guidance – and having a sponsor.

"Sponsors come forward and speak on your behalf," she said. "You may not even know you have a sponsor, but they see you at work, know what you're capable of, and advocate for you behind the scenes. Most often, sponsors choose you."

Walthall says she didn't realize how important sponsors were, or even what they were, until she realized she had some helping her.

"To have a sponsor, you need to be visible, wherever you are on your career path. And for some women – especially those who are more introverted or may be working in a remote location, it's easy not to be visible," she added. "You have to challenge yourself to step forward out of your comfort zone."

To that point, Walthall and her former boss and mentor – and now her friend -- Brenda Mitchell, recently co-authored a book about what it's like for women building careers in aerospace and defense.

They interviewed 33 women and nearly all spoke about the support systems – at home and at work -- that enabled them to break through challenges and succeed. Walthall often says her husband, now retired from a successful aerospace career of his own, has always been her biggest champion.

When asked who her heroes are now, Walthall, who has blazed a few trails herself, answered: "Whether we're talking about aviation pioneers like Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart who opened doors for us all, or the women leading in the industry today, I admire those who aren't afraid to be the first to do something then pave the way for others to follow."

Her advice for those engineering a career in aerospace or any other industry:

  • Trust the people on your team to do their best work.
  • Trying times are temporary. Keep the end goal in mind.
  • Take care of yourself – don't work so hard you overlook your health.
  • Ask for help when you need it – it's a sign of strength.
  • There's no success without support. Be gracious, share credit and thank people for their hard work.
popular

How These Companies Are Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

According to a recent study, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 150% since the pandemic started. But these acts of violence are not new — they are part of a much larger history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.

That makes celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (which was named a month-long celebration in May by Congress in 1992 "to coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843 and contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad, completed May 10, 1869") this year all the more important.

READ MORE AND DISCUSS Show less
Webinars

Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Only 4% of companies that say they value diversity consider disabilities. Even fewer include learning and thinking differences.

While neurodiversity is a concept that is gaining more awareness, many employers have still not fully grasped the importance (and benefits) of understanding neurodiversity and how to effectively incorporate and retain neurodivergent individuals in their organizations.

READ MORE AND DISCUSS Show less
Videos

[VIDEO ▶️ ] Are You the Right Candidate for the Job? Tips From a Helm Recruiter

💎 Wondering how you can show up as the right candidate for the job?

📼 Press PLAY to hear some insight from a recruiter at Helm into what the right candidate for the job looks like in an interview. Alayna Sye, Helm's Senior Technical Recruiter, knows an applicant is going to be the right for the job usually after the first conversation. Find out exactly what will make you stand out, as well as the steps for the application process at Helm.

READ MORE AND DISCUSS Show less
popular

30+ Ways Companies Are Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month 2021

Founded in 1989, Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15 and ends October 15. The four-week span over two calendar months may seem a bit odd, but it comes with good reason, as it covers independence anniversaries of several Latin American countries, as well as key celebrations in Hispanic and Latin communities. Apart from commemorating major holidays and historic milestones, this month honors the cultures and contributions of Hispanic and Latinx Americans.

We asked some of our partner companies what they're doing to honor and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at work this year, and we were inspired by the wide range of responses, from highlighting the impact that employees have in local communities to hosting fireside conversations on allyship to sharing performances and instruction of famous cultural dances.ot only are these companies honoring Hispanic Heritage Month, they're finding ways to spread positive change throughout the year. Here's what they're doing, in their own words:

READ MORE AND DISCUSS Show less
Webinars

The Workplace of the Future: How Companies Can Plan for The Ever-Changing

As vaccination numbers climb and some—though not all—of our collective paranoia begins to dissipate, businesses are starting to reopen. Employers face a key decision: how will they respond? Will they go back to the ways of life before COVID? Or will they adopt more permanently the flexibility and remote-first work necessitated by the pandemic?

As part of our Corporate Circles: Inclusive Conversation Series, join PowerToFly's Global Director of DEI Sienna Brown and Global DEI Strategist & Trainer Zara Chaudary on Friday, October 1st from 12pm to 1:30pm Eastern for an interactive roundtable as we discuss and share the tools and mindset needed to create the office of the future in a post-pandemic world.

READ MORE AND DISCUSS Show less
© Rebelmouse 2020