Celebrating Women in Aerospace Engineering: Sylvie DeLaHunt
In celebration of Women's History Month, the Department of Aerospace Engineering is highlighting some of our talented and diverse alumni and faculty through a series of stories sharing their journeys and their advice for aspiring aerospace engineers.
Sylvie DeLaHunt (B.S. ’14, M.S. ’16) is a senior guidance, navigation, and control engineer and supervisor of the Future Weapon Concepts and Algorithms Section of the Air and Missile Defense Sector (AMDS) at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. She co-leads the AMDS Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, is a member-at-large on APL’s Employee Resource Group, and was formerly president of the APL Women in Technology Affinity Group. Through the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Sylvie is a member of the Missile Systems Technical Committee, Diversity Working Group, and Women of Aeronautics and Astronautics Committee. She is also active on the Society of Women Engineers Awards and Recognition Committee.
Where/how did you get started on your aerospace engineering journey?
Growing up, I was very fortunate that my father was an aerospace engineer and my mother was a history professor—this fostered both my talent for math and science and my appreciation for the liberal arts. I entered the University of Maryland as an undecided engineering student—not just undecided about my engineering major, but also undecided about studying engineering at all—before declaring aerospace engineering after my first semester. As I completed more undergraduate coursework, especially in the subjects of flight dynamics and control systems, my interest in the field continued to grow. With the support of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and mentorship of my thesis advisor, Dr. Norman Wereley, I ultimately completed my M.S. in aerospace engineering, with a specialization in flight dynamics, stability, and control, following in the footsteps of my dad, who oversees attitude determination and control systems for spacecraft at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
Who/what inspires you?
I am motivated by the opportunity to make a difference. Sometimes, when we join a new school, company, or team, we have a tendency to believe that our smart peers must have already tackled all the problems we could solve or new ideas we could propose. However, this is almost never true! During my first six years at APL, I have continually come across new ways to influence positive, incremental change. For example, I spearheaded a successful effort to remove membership dues for APL’s diversity-related affinity groups, collaborated with APL’s facilities department to make free menstrual products available in restrooms, and championed multiple new initiatives to better recognize diversity and inclusion efforts here. From a technical perspective, I have had the opportunity to define performance requirements for two top-level requirements documents.
I am motivated by the opportunity to make a difference.
What has helped you succeed in your Aero journey?
As an early career engineer, my success thus far has been enabled by my pursuit of extracurricular activities and informal leadership roles. These activities allowed me to make senior-level connections well before my technical abilities and accomplishments would have earned similar recognition, as well as strengthened my leadership qualifications for applying to formal leadership positions.
What advice would you offer to current students?
My biggest piece of advice for current students is to discover and embrace your authentic selves, and to create an inclusive environment where your peers can do the same. Even today, I sometimes struggle with feelings of inadequacy as a woman with a diversity of personal and professional interests in a field that often valorizes a singular passion for aerospace (read more here: https://aerospaceamerica.aiaa.org/departments/the-price-of-passion/).
However, much of my impact on the industry has come from leaning into my unique blend of interests and willingness to stand up for what’s right. Are you all-in on your engineering coursework and research? Or pursuing supplemental majors or minors that will give you a unique perspective? Excited about engineering team clubs or study abroad? Inspired by diversity and inclusion, outreach, or team building? Happiest doing a little bit of everything? It’s okay if you aren’t sure yet—your personal brand will grow with you. Do what makes you happy, avoid comparing yourself to others, and find peers and mentors who value your unique perspective. (Read more: https://aero.umd.edu/news/story/devoted-to-diversity)
What have been some of your greatest personal or professional successes?
This past year, I received two awards for my advocacy efforts: the Air and Missile Defense Sector Creative Courage Award and the Society of Women Engineers ‘WE Local Engaged Advocate’ Award. In addition to effecting change on a number of diversity and inclusion teams at APL and in professional societies, I am a public speaker on adapting university engineering programs to be more inclusive. A couple of my op-ed columns have also been published in newspapers and magazines.
Published March 14, 2022