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Kimley-Horn’s Eileen Velez-Vega Named to SWE Board of Directors

Learn About Eileen Velez-Vega

Eileen Velez-Vega, Aviation Practice Lead with Kimley-Horn, was recently named a Director for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). In this role, she shares her expertise and guidance and upholds SWE’s mission: to empower women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders; expand the image of the engineering and technology professions as a positive force in improving the quality of life; and demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusion. Below, learn more about Eileen’s nearly 20-year involvement with SWE and her contributions to the Aviation industry.

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

My consulting career started in 2006 when I joined Kimley-Horn as an Aviation project manager in West Palm Beach. In 2014, I relocated to Puerto Rico to start an office and currently, I serve as a Vice President and managing partner. As manager of infrastructure projects in all 10 of Puerto Rico’s airports, I’ve had countless opportunities to grow in my career and pave the way for others. I grew up in Puerto Rico, so it’s been incredible to be home and see how my airport design and construction work directly impacts the island and thousands of airport passengers. If I do my job right, no one will notice, but if I don’t, they will. I keep this in mind with every new project I take on and especially when trying to help with recovery efforts in the devastating aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria. We’re still working to rebuild Puerto Rico and I’m proud to play a part in restoring this beautiful place.

2. What drew you to aviation?

My mom lived through the Pan Am glam era and passed her love of traveling and aviation on to me. Growing up on the island of Puerto Rico, I recognized the important role airports played in staying connected to the rest of the world. I grew up wanting to travel and was intrigued every time I visited an airport. I wanted to be an astronaut or work in a field related to aerospace or aviation, so in high school, I participated in Space Camp at Kennedy Space Center and in college, I worked at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. When I graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, I went to work for the Airfields and Pavements Branch at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center. Visiting military bases in the USA and around the world strengthened my love for aviation because airports are mini cities. This means we can do multidisciplinary projects within airport boundaries and never get bored!

3. What does SWE mean to you?

My SWE involvement began in college where I actively participated as a Collegiate Section Leader. In the years following my graduation, I started the first Professional Section in the state of Mississippi and revitalized the Southeast Florida Professional Section. Now, I’m working to expand SWE in Puerto Rico and I’m proud to serve as the Counselor for the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez’s Collegiate Section, my Alma Mater. 

Throughout my career, I’ve continued to be grateful for the opportunities SWE has provided to connect with and support other women in the industry. I’ve also loved how SWE has allowed me to mentor girls interested in going into engineering and other STEM careers. This is important work because in 2018, SWE found only 13% of engineers are women. Additionally, more than half of the female freshmen who sign up to major in engineering end up switching to non-STEM majors by graduation. If women are going to achieve their full potential as engineers and leaders, they need to feel empowered. SWE provides the support network to make that happen.

"If women are going to achieve their full potential as engineers and leaders, they need to feel empowered. SWE provides the support network to make that happen."

Since I first began my career, I’ve had amazing, successful men and women as my mentors. While there are now more females in STEM and we’re following in the footsteps of the talented women who paved the way for us, there’s still much work left to do. I’ve been stereotyped because of how I look and while it can provide motivation to prove people wrong, it’s also exhausting. With SWE, I get to be part of the change that our diversity and inclusion efforts are making in STEM fields. I can’t wait to see what else we’ll achieve in my new role as a Director. I’m honored to be part of the Board of Directors and excited to continue learning from my SWE colleagues.

4. Demonstrating the value of diversity and inclusion is part of SWE’s mission. What does "intentional inclusion" look like to you?

As a Latina in STEM, I’ve learned that we can be positive role models for younger girls and professionals, especially when the statistics show that Latinas represent only 2-3% of the STEM workforce. Representation is important. Throughout my career, I’ve had many opportunities to break stereotypes and educate others. I’ve never seen my race or ethnicity as an obstacle to a successful career and life. Intentional inclusion is truly feeling part of the group and accepted for what we bring to the team. It’s recognizing our unconscious bias and allowing ourselves to be more open and accepting before judgment. A diverse team will always be more efficient and valuable to a company.

"Intentional inclusion is truly feeling part of the group and accepted for what we bring to the team."

Working with SWE, particularly with the Latinos and the Global Women Affinity Groups, has further increased my awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and of having a support network where we feel safe to be our true selves. It has been amazing to work with women from across the world and from numerous cultures and still share many similarities in our experiences and what we want to achieve in the STEM world. We all want to be appreciated and recognized for our talents and contributions, not because we count towards a diversity percentage or quota. As a mother of a little girl, I’ve exposed her to diverse experiences and maintain an open dialogue about how we are all important, no matter where we come from or what we look like. It’s so simple in her innocent mind to understand the concept of diversity and inclusion that it gives me hope and encourages me to continue my advocacy in the STEM community and everywhere I go.

Contact Eileen to learn more about her involvement in SWE. 

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